Thursday, July 25, 2024

Council Should Not Investigate Themselves

By Stephen Vance, Editor

I can’t say that I was overly surprised as I watched Meaford’s council decide to do away with a bylaw that has been on the books since 2007 which requires the municipality to appoint an integrity commissioner to investigate complaints lodged against members of council.


After all, we haven’t had an integrity commissioner in more than three years in this municipality, so council has essentially been violating their own bylaw. I’m surprised they didn’t rescind the bylaw long ago.


What our council decided on September 12 is that an independent integrity commissioner is too much of an inconvenience, too much of an irritation.

So instead, if a resident feels moved to file a complaint about the actions of a member, or members of council, they can file a complaint with the municipal clerk. That complaint will then be forwarded on to the Mayor (or Deputy Mayor if the complaint is against the Mayor – important to have that illusion of conflict avoidance included). The Mayor will then investigate the complaint, prepare a report, and then members of council will gather in a closed session to discuss the complaint.


Naturally the move has raised some eyebrows, and judging by my in-box this week, a lot of people are angry that members of council would ditch the notion of appointing an independent integrity commissioner in favour of investigating themselves, behind closed doors, should any member of the public or municipal staff wish to complain about the actions of our elected representatives.


I think though, that our council might be on to something.


Think of all the money that could be saved if we as a society shifted to complete self-regulation!


We wouldn’t need a bylaw enforcement officer for example.


If a resident was concerned about a property in their neighbourhood that had fallen into a state of disrepair with rusty, leaking chemical barrels scattered across a lawn that had become overgrown with long grass and noxious weeds, why bother picking up the phone and calling the bylaw enforcement officer?


Using council’s logic, all the resident would need to do would be to knock on the door of the offending property owner and express their concerns. The property owner could then gather some of his friends around his kitchen table where they would discuss the complaint that had been received, and then the property owner could decide, with the advice of his friends, what if anything he should do about the complaint.


Almost sounds silly doesn’t it?


But think about it.


In a completely self-regulated world we could audit our own tax returns, investigate our own traffic accidents, and hey, maybe our school children could start marking their own tests!


Perhaps in a perfect world we could completely regulate ourselves without any of those pesky independent investigators poking around. But the world isn’t perfect. And no matter how wonderful, upright, and honest our elected members of council are, there is always potential for an issue to be swept under the rug and quietly forgotten if we allow those we elect to be accountable only to themselves.


An upright, honest council should have no fear of appointing an integrity commissioner. If a complaint is filed against a member of council, and that councillor has done nothing wrong, then surely that is the conclusion that the integrity commissioner would come to.


If on the other hand the councillor for whom the complaint had been lodged was in the wrong, wouldn’t it be easier for his fellow councillors if they didn’t have to come to that conclusion themselves? Wouldn’t it be better all around if an independent entity after a thorough investigation delivered that news?


Granted, most of us would prefer to not have someone looking over our shoulder. Most of us would prefer to have as few people as possible know when we slip up.


Elected representatives work for us. We are the boss. We collectively hire our members of council when we cast our vote for them.  We pay their council salaries.


If you screw up at work does your boss let you and your co-workers investigate the situation and then recommend corrective action? Or does your boss, or someone that they appoint to investigate on their behalf look into the problem?


Councillors may view an independent integrity commissioner as an unnecessary irritation, but think of the voter confidence they could establish if they simply appointed one.


Be the 1st to vote.

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