"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Friday, 23 May 2008

Still Cogitating

I have never at any time contemplated resignation. I am seldom inclined to back away from the fray. Being elected has always been my sanction to rattle the bars and shake loose the iron grip of the common denominator that politics contrives. The triumph of the mundane. The need to be safe and offend no-one. The elevation of a backyard clothesline to international status as our main claim to fame.

It is six months since I concluded little of what I had to offer would make a difference at this council table . My only option was to take my message directly to the community. It was a calculated risk.

When she was struggling with the realization of the seeming futility of being a member of this council, I urged Grace Marsh not to underestimate the attention and support in the community for a competent position sincerely and capably presented. What feels like failure is not perceived that way outside the council.

The positive aspect of the recent decision on how to fill the gap left by Grace was the powerful expression of the community's reaction and the clarity of their understanding of the issues at hand.

"Much has changed since the last election", they said. The "unfortunate circumstances" of the resignation were repeatedly referenced. Their appreciation of what had been lost, how that came about and how it should be remedied was ably articulated. We want to choose the successor, they demanded.

Though the matter has been decided and the seat filled, I suspect the last has not been heard of the issue.


On the same night we made the fateful decision on how to fill the vacancy, we passed a resolution to approve a Code of Conduct. It was not the night to launch a second powerful argument. A bylaw must still be prepared and presented to council for adoption.

Councillor Collins-Mrakas has concerns about wording in The Code. Alison has a substantial body of skills. She holds a Masters Degree in Science and a second in Law; the latter from Osgoode Hall. She teaches Ethics in Public Service, Mediation and Research . She presents papers, lectures and mediates in dispute resolution. Her favourite occupation is research.

In the same way Grace was a huge asset in financial matters, Alison is too in her particular field. Some wording of The Code is flawed she proffers. No matter. It's like spitting into the wind.

There is no requirement in the Municipal Act for Councils to adopt a Code of Conduct. Once it is adopted, it must be enforced. For that we must retain an Integrity Commissioner. There is a complaint procedure and penalties are provided for breach of Da Code.

The penalties range from a reprimand to a three month suspension of remuneration. A councillor's seat must be declared vacant after a consistent three month absence.

After a municipal conference in Ottawa, the Mayor informed council of a conversation she had with George Rust-D'Eye . They were discussing new regulations to increase transparency in municipal governance. Mr. Rust-D'Eye according to the Mayor, stated the problem with the regulations is they have no teeth. There are no consequences or penalties.

Several municipalities have adopted Codes. There seem to be unanticipated consequences. The Town of Meaford is under siege from their Integrity Commissioner. One veteran councillor has already resigned stating he did not run for office to submit to accusations of financial mismanagement.

The Town of East Gwillimbury adopted a Code. It resulted in their Mayor and a Councillor being "investigated " for failure to heed direction from the Chief Administrative Officer. Apparently it was the cao's complaint that brought on the investigation. The price, without legal costs has been published at $11,200. The findings and remedy for the offence was for the Mayor and Councillor to pay $75,000 for tidying up what they thought was a mess .

The Mayor and Councillor had been advised to retain legal council. They did. It was never apparent what role he had in the proceedings. They were also advised they would have a conflict of interest if they attended meetings at which the issue was being discussed. They didn't. The community was outraged. East Gwillimbury's five member council was decimated and divided.

The extent of the penalty caused council. minus the Mayor and his accomplice, to committ to raising the funds in the community to pay off the penalty. It would not pf course compensate the taxpayers for the $11,200.cost plus the legal costs for the "investigation"

. In Aurora ,our legal costs for an "investigation" was $16.200 So far as can be determined there
were no interviews conducted except perhaps with the Mayor .There was a press conference and a media release at which legal counsel on hand. George Rust D'Eye was counsel for East Gwillimbury and Aurora in both matters although East Gwillimbury did have a Code of Conduct adopted by by-law. Aurora did not.

In the course of "the investigation" many interviews were conducted to determine the facts of an enterprise already publicly acknowledged. Hundreds of pages of documentation were generated. So much that when the decision was made to release the report to the public, the sheer volume of paper was referenced as a deterrent . Mr. George Rust-D'Eye was the solicitor retained by East Gwillimbury to "investigate" the capricious act of the Mayor and their most experienced councillor.

The City of Toronto has an Integrity Commissioner. He has an Administrative Assistant. The commissioner's retainer at last mention is $104,000 a year.The administrative assistant 's retainer is in addition. The issues investigated appear to be complaints by councillors against councillors. Once he found a councillor had offended against The Code during an election. He recommended the Councillor should apologize. She did not.

Council was not of a mind to enforce the issue. It might have had something to do with the draconian penalties for failure to obey. It might also have been they could see how easy it would be for any one of them to be in that same circumstance.

I've mentioned these things to colleagues. Like I said, it's like spitting into the wind.

CORRECTION - Alison says she would not describe what she does as teaching ethics though she does provide lectures, etc. She provides oversight of and advice regarding and lectures on research ethics at the University. She also sits on the University Tribunal mediating and/or adjudicating student non-academic offences.

Alison thought I might be exaggerating her skills. I do not think so. In the course of an election, it is often hard to absorb all the information candidates are presentng about themselves. Until I asked, I had no idea of the breadth of her experience. I knew she was coming at things from a different direction to myself but we eventually arrive at the same point in logic.

We do not always vote the same way but that's not the requirement of a councillor. Bringing forward whatever resources one has, independently exercising one's mind and being personally accountable is what it's about.

Alison Collins-Mrakas like Grace Marsh, is an invaluable asset.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Evelyn for your kind comments and your ongoing support. I appreciate it very much.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Evelyn for your kind words and your ongoing support. I appreciate both. I also agree that Alison is a great asset to Council.