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Hamilton council schooled on ethics and residents got to listen in

Analysis by Kathy Renwald

 Ethics got a public airing before Hamilton’s new council after they voted to hold an ethics training session in public rather than private this week.

  Though it was suggested the training should be held behind closed doors so councillors could feel comfortable asking uncomfortable questions, the open session conducted by the integrity commissioner proved valuable for both politicians and the public.

  One very clear message from the integrity commissioner to council was repeated throughout the meeting, “Your primary role is not to advocate for your constituents.”

  This guideline came after a volley of questions regarding the fuzzy trappings of public life.

  Councillors get invited to fundraising events, offered tickets to concerts, restaurant openings,

galas, when is it stepping over the line?

 Well, the integrity commissioner suggested, it might be best to keep a log.

  The session was conducted by Janice Atwood, a co-principal with Principles Integrity, The firm is retained by the city as commissioner.

  In the thorny area of improper use of influence councillors were instructed not to participate in tribunals, such as the Ontario Land Tribunal, but paying a visit to the city’s own Committee of Adjustment is sort of ok, but first check with the city solicitor.

  Regarding that hot potato-Councillor Esther Pauls pointed out that her phone starts ringing when contentious building permits appear.

  “There’s so many rules, I’m afraid to walk,” she said.

  Other points made by the integrity commissioner-

Individual councillors should not be contacting other levels of government about “issues” i.e. Bill 23, LRT etc., all that correspondence should flow though the mayor.

  Councillors should not undermine or work against council decisions.

  Councillors may offer advice to community groups but not join them.

  That directive led councillors to question whether their participation in rallies against Bill 23 is stepping over the line.

  On the subject of media communications via Twitter etc. the commissioner cautioned-“you cannot be a journalist and and a council member at the same time.”

  Council voted unanimously to hold the ethics training in a public session, underscoring their new emphasis on transparency.

  Such unity is notable but perhaps even fragile. In the section on maintaining a respectful workplace the integrity commissioner cautioned councillors not to ghost someone,

“just because they disagree with you.”

The full meeting can be viewed on the City of Hamilton You Tube channel.

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