Survey shows less than half of staff feel politicians are ethical.
One piece of unfinished business facing the new Hamilton Council is an initiative to tighten up employee ethics and values. The process started in 2013 when staff were authorized to conduct a corporate values and ethics audit. A confidential survey was conducted that attracted 2800 responses from staff. The findings were disturbing. Less than half agreed with the statement “I know that concerns reported under the code of conduct are handled appropriately.” There was a similar response for “I can report misconduct without fear of retaliation.” A quarter of respondents (the City has more than 7000 staff) said they have been pressured to compromise their ethics and values. Perhaps as an indication of the perceived level of intimidation, the senior staff; who drafted the policy saw fit to omit a key survey finding regarding conduct of members of council: Less than 50 percent agreed with the statement ” I believe that the conduct of City Council members is consistent with the City’s Code of Conduct.”
Previously the Bay Observer has documented a number of instances of code of conduct and corporate policy breaches by members of council. These include:
- Threatening a city employee’s job and carrying out the threat, resulting in over $1,000,000 in legal fees.
- Numerous instances of bullying and intimidating staff.
- Condoning a wide range of violations of city purchasing, building and financial control policies on behalf of the Hamilton Waterfront Trust.
- Kyboshing a staff proposal to provide a transparent process for identifying and training future senior management prospects.
- Nepotism and cronyism in making appointments to city boards and commissions, as well as influencing staff hires, promotions and terminations.
All of these activities have taken place notwithstanding the City’s long-standing existing code of conduct for councillors. Nonetheless city management are going ahead with an extensive 6 point program to make employees aware of the code of conduct and to standardize how breaches are reported and tracked. Some observers have questioned whether a program that expects such a high degree of compliance by staff can succeed in the face of a council that openly flouts existing codes of conduct.The Bay Observer asked Fay Booker, a governance expert who has clients across Canada, whether a staff ethics policy can work in isolation from its council, she replied, “management and staff will take their cues for the real ethical standards of the organization from those who are the most senior of the organization. For a municipal body that is the Mayor and Council. A code for staff without a code for the governing level speaks volumes. How can a governing body (council) hold staff accountable when they themselves will not set standards by which they will be held accountable?”
The city has an integrity commissioner in place, but thus far there have been no significant findings of ethical breaches by members of council. Sometime during the current legislative session the Ontario Government is expected to pass a bill that will give the Provincial Ombudsman the power to investigate the municipal level of government, something the Ombudsman has been recommending for 30 years. A spokesperson in the Ombudsman’s office told the Bay Observer the office gets thousands of complaints every year about municipalities. Soon the office will be able to start investigating them.