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Innisfail council code of conduct discussions upcoming

Province holds off changing controversial legislation but Innisfail’s new council will be reviewing it
MVT Innisfail code of conduct bylaw
Despite reports the province may make huge changes to the current council code of conduct bylaw requirements for Alberta municipalities, the new Innisfail town council will be tasked to become familiar with the controversial legislation soon after it's sworn in. File photo/MVP Staff

INNISFAIL – The Alberta government has decided to hold off on any changes to the controversial Code of Conduct Bylaw for municipalities until next year but Innisfail’s current bylaw will be one of the first pieces of municipal legislations the town’s new council will be asked to look at.

Over the past year the bylaw, which was brought into the provincial Municipal Government Act in 2018, was used by the Town of Innisfail to probe the conduct of Donnie Hill and Glen Carritt when both were town councillors. The independent investigations cost taxpayers about $25,000, with most of the expense going into the Carritt probe. The cost for the investigation on Hill was just under $4,000, but he opted to pay for it himself.

The Council Code of Conduct issue was brought up on Sept. 27 when Innisfail council received a Town of Sundre letter that was originally sent to Ric McIver, provincial minister of municipal affairs. The letter, signed by Mayor Terry Leslie, said the Town of Sundre wanted the Code of Conduct Bylaw requirement to remain mandatory for municipalities.

“We agree that having a requirement for municipalities to have a Code of Conduct Bylaw in place provides a framework for council member's behaviour and provides each council direction and guidance for dealing with any contentious issues that may arise,” said Leslie in the Sept. 10 letter to McIver.

“It is imperative that the option of imposing sanctions on council members continues as necessary to support this process.”

Todd Becker, chief administrative officer for the Town of Innisfail, told council he had not yet seen anything “formal” from the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) about the issue but it was his understanding the provincial Municipal Affairs ministry was looking at “adjusting” the Municipal Government Act as it related to municipal Code of Conduct Bylaw requirements.

He added he did not have much information or seen any material on what was being suggested for changes.

However, a week later Becker told The Albertan he received “clarity” following the Sept. 27 meeting and that both AUMA and Municipal Affairs agreed to hold off on making changes to the Code of Conduct Bylaw, specifically removing the mandatory requirement for municipalities to have the bylaw, until early to mid-2022.

“It’s really stemming from the enormous push back received from Alberta local governments,” said Becker, adding the Town of Innisfail did not provide the province or AUMA feedback on the Council Code of Conduct issue. “We did provide council a quick email saying, ‘we’ve done a little bit of a review and this is what we have found’ but it has not yet come back into the chambers.”

Becker said it remains part of council’s orientation and protocols to include a review of the Code of Conduct Bylaw, and it will be put to the new council sooner rather than later.

“That will be one of the first exercises that council will be exposed to, reviewing the current Code of Conduct Bylaw,” said Becker.

Outgoing mayor Jim Romane said this month that Innisfail council went “through a lot of effort” to follow through with the new Council Code of Conduct Bylaw, noting that transparency for the public is paramount.

“To set it up and then throw it all out now? It’s disheartening to say the least. I know other communities are saying it shouldn’t be mandatory, and it (should) be their own choice to do it, which it is anyways," said Romane.

"You don’t have to do it but it was highly recommended that you do it, but in this day and age people are so easily discouraged when things get put down in mandatory written form, and now they want full financial disclosure and holdings when you get elected."

“All these new councillors are going to be put through that if they have to do financial disclosures,” he added, noting the previous investigations became “overwhelming” but necessary to hold the town’s elected officials accountable to the people they serve.

“That is exactly what the whole intention is but sometimes people start thinking you are invading but if you are going to be a voice of the people then have good intentions and not serve for yourself. Transparency is important.”

Johnnie Bachusky

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