Tony Mancini wants stronger sanctions for disrespectful HRM councillors

Gee, I wonder who this totally unprompted request to bolster the code of conduct could be about?

Tony Mancini wants stronger sanctions for disrespectful HRM councillors
Tony Mancini, pictured in happier times.

As Drake would say, Halifax council is coming back on its worst behaviour.

Harbourview–Burnside–Dartmouth East representative Tony Mancini is asking for a staff report at Tuesday’s meeting of HRM Regional Council on updates to the municipality’s code of conduct for elected officials.

Part of that report will look at creating a new integrity commissioner at city hall to conduct investigations every time a breach of conduct is reported. Other Canadian cities such as Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton all have integrity commissioners who provide similar reports to their municipal governments.

“If a breach has been confirmed to have occurred, some cities have strengthened the repercussions to include suspension or reduction of remuneration for up to 90 days as part of the possible reprimands,” suggests Mancini.

Halifax’s current code of conduct for municipal officials—otherwise known as Administrative Order 52—says the public expects “the highest standards of professional conduct from members elected to local government.”

To that end, those officials are expected, at all times, to behave with integrity, honesty, objectivity, accountability and leadership while “enhancing the credibility and integrity of council in the broader community.”

The code’s subsections on interpersonal behaviour and community representation likewise implore elected officials to treat everyone “with dignity, understanding and respect” and “observe a high standard of professionalism.”

Mancini’s motion asks that councillors be required to review and personally sign off on those sections every year.

So far over the course of 2017 HRM has endured multiple public apologies from its city councillors because of comments made online or in the media.

Preston–Chezzetcook–Eastern Shore representative David Hendsbee expressed regret back in June after calling Indigenous protesters “hotheads on the warpath.” Privately, Hendsbee later joked about smoking a peace pipe and feigned surprise that the black sheet used to cover the statue of Halifax founder/scalping advocate Edward Cornwallis wasn’t red.

Then there’s Matt Whitman. The Hammonds Plains–St. Margaret’s councillor has issued three public apologies in his young political career—two in the last eight months.

Over a year ago, council ordered Whitman to publicly apologize after he published a series of disparaging tweets about an RCMP officer. Whitman subsequently went on a semi-sarcastic “apology tour,” telling CBC that he would be more careful with his social media use in the future.

In March, Whitman again said he was sorry after uploading a video of himself running around a car shouting “Chinese fire drill.” Then last month, the former deputy mayor and failed MLA candidate got into a Twitter fight with fellow councillor Shawn Cleary about whether it was possible to be racist towards Mexicans. Whitman says no. He rationalized his argument on the CTV suppertime news by suggesting it was possible to be racist towards caucasians “or negroes” but not Mexicans.

Despite later defending his use of the outdated pejorative for Black people as a “word in the dictionary,” Whitman apologized the following Tuesday before the commencement of Regional Council’s meeting.

At least four complaints about councillor behaviour were filed at the end of October; two of which have been confirmed to be about Whitman. An in-camera item at council’s November 14 meeting will seemingly address those complaints.

The code of conduct currently states that any reported violation by an elected official is subject to an investigation by council, which at its discretion can retain an external consultant or panel to take over.

If someone is found to be in breach of the code, council can censure the accused by ordering an apology, for them to attend counselling or by withdrawing the councillor in question from any committee appointments.

Mancini’s staff report wants to see those powers expanded—pending already asked for changes to the municipality’s Charter—to allow for the withholding of pay.

“The code of conduct should reflect the work of the HRM Council while defining more clearly the behaviour, manners, and courtesies that are suitable for various occasions,” Mancini writes. “The constant and consistent theme through all the conduct guidelines should be ‘respect.’”