Resident Art King is concerned that a potential change to an ethics bylaw at city hall could open the door to abuse by elected officials and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
During its Sept. 27 regular meeting, city council unanimously voted to — among other directives — have city administration create a standalone elected members’ code of ethics bylaw to address four specific areas.
Those areas include:
- Providing greater detail on the nature of ethical behaviours and the types of behaviours that will be monitored
- Expanding the complaints procedures component to address how and when an external investigation may be initiated
- Providing specific leave of absence provisions for a council member wishing to pursue provincial or federal politics
- Giving city administration the leeway to monitor additional matters that it believes council should review
City administration plans to present potential amendments to The Elected Members Code of Ethics Bylaw in the first quarter of 2022, a council report said. City hall needs to perform research to ensure the recommendations are fair and impartial.
The report added that there would also be an opportunity for council and the public to provide input about the proposed bylaw.
While the proposed recommendations are expected early next year, King decided not to wait until then to bring forward his concerns. Instead, he appeared before city council on Oct. 25 and spoke about what worried him with the expected bylaw; specifically, the proposed provision would let elected council members take a leave of absence to run for provincial or federal politics.
Residents running to be mayor or city councillor fill out nomination forms and are aware of the duration of the contract, the remuneration or pay, and the scope of the contract, which includes ethics and bylaws governing ethics, he pointed out.
Officials are required to swear an oath of office after being elected, declaring that they will be true, faithful and impartial to the best of their abilities and knowledge to perform the duties of their office, King continued.
“If the said party could take a leave of absence to run for the selected (provincial or federal) party and won, they would be in violation of their oath and contract, failing to perform in the best interest of the taxpayer, forcing a byelection at the taxpayers’ expense,” he said. “This could possibly leave the door open to litigation to recapture the loss due to the breach.”
King believed that a breach had occurred through former mayor Fraser Tolmie running in — and winning — the 2021 federal election less than a year after winning re-election in the 2020 municipal election.
King also believed that the proposed bylaw left the door open for a similar breach in the future. This would then cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to hold a byelection; roughly $80,000 is expected to be spent on the Nov. 3 mayoral byelection.
A Pandora’s box of problems could be opened with the potential leave of absence clause, especially before a municipal election happened, he continued. This would give the incumbent mayor or councillor an advantage knowing that if they failed to secure “the more prestigious employment and remuneration,” they could fall back on their secured job.
“Therefore, if the City of Moose Jaw administration is truly interested in integrity and ethical behaviour, the actions that are playing out are front and centre and should not be wrapped by putting lipstick on a pig,” King added.
After King’s presentation, council voted unanimously to receive and file his report.
The next regular council meeting is Monday, Nov. 8.