Councillor tries again for code of conduct review

Tony Mancini says he and his elected colleagues should annually sign “statements of commitment” to ethical behaviour.

Morality captain of the no-fun brigade Tony Mancini over here. - RILEY SMITH
Morality captain of the no-fun brigade Tony Mancini over here.

After censuring one of its members for retweeting a white supremacist group and leaking confidential information, Tony Mancini is politely suggesting Halifax council take another look at this whole code of conduct thing.

The Harbourview–Burnside–Dartmouth East councillor is asking for a staff report at council's meeting next week looking for recommendations on improving his colleagues' understanding of and familiarity with the municipality's code of conduct for elected officials.

As part of that ask, Mancini wants councillors to review the document and sign a “statement of commitment” to its values every year in hopes of improving trust in local government.

“Regional council has recently debated a few high-profile incidents involving the conduct of elected officials,” Mancini writes. “It may now be time to implement a process for an annual review/reminder of the code of conduct for all members.”

The councillor suggests the annual review could help “build a spirit of cooperation and confidence in council's integrity” by demonstrating a commitment to ethical workplace culture and help increase public trust in city hall.

It's the second time Mancini has brought forward the idea, and comes after a record-breaking number of public complaints about councillor behaviour that's already resulted in council ordering itself into sensitivity training, a smorgasbord of public apologies and councillor Matt Whitman being removed from board and committee work.

Last fall, Mancini floated an annual code of conduct review along with a proposal to hire an integrity commissioner and plans to strengthen administrative penalties for those found in violation of HRM's ethics.

The idea was not well received.

“I personally find it insulting,” said Dartmouth South–Eastern Passage councillor Bill Karsten at the time. “It’s my good name and my reputation I will stand on—not signing a piece of paper once a year.”

Ultimately, Mancini's motion was split into separate parts. Council approved a regular four-year review of the code of conduct, but the annual sign-off and integrity commissioner ideas were both defeated.

Which takes us to last month, when council spent nearly three hours in-camera debating Whitman’s endorsement of a white supremacist group's pro-European message along with other complaints against councillors Waye Mason and Shawn Cleary.

Afterwards, mayor Mike Savage told reporters he was “prepared to revisit” the idea of an integrity commissioner.

“There is frustration that we end up back here too often,” Savage said, about the in-camera complaint process.

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

Councillors are expected, at all times, to enhance “the credibility and integrity of council in the broader community” and treat everyone “with dignity, understanding and respect.”

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