By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to The Appalachian
ST. JOHN’S– On Tuesday, Oct. 26, MHA Krista Lynn Howell, Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, introduced the new proposed Municipal Conduct Act to the House of Assembly for a second reading. Should the bill be passed, it will govern the conflict of interest, ethical behaviour, and professional conduct for municipalities all across the province by providing clear guidelines.
“It is essential that councils have the legislative authority, training and tools to effectively address issues of conflict of interest, use of influence, harassment and professional conduct,” said Howell. “This will result in improved respectfulness, professionalism and workplace safety and wellness, ensuring that councils are more inclusive and addressing barriers that may prohibit people from participating in local government.”
The proposed Municipal Conduct Act would offer clarity on the procedures for dealing with conflicts of interest and provide a definition and set of rules for all municipalities to follow. It would require all municipalities to create a code of conduct for anyone acting on behalf of the municipality, introduce proper training, and put penalties in place for anyone found in violation.
Amy Coady, President of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) is pleased that the new legislation is forthcoming.
“Ensuring that municipal councils have all the tools they need to support good governance is important now more than ever. We look forward to working with the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs and our members to support code of conduct development and implementation across the sector,” said Coady.
Other important requirements that would be set forth by the Act include topics of influence, harassment and confidentiality. Moreover complaint procedures would need to be created, councillors would have to be appropriately excluded from matters where they are in conflict, and penalties for violations could include the removal of the councillor from their seat.
Brian Hudson is the President of Professional Municipal Administrators (PMA), an advocate for a code of conduct for local government.
“The proposed Municipal Conduct Act can help ensure respectful and productive working relationships among council officials as well as between council, professional municipal administrators and other staff. PMA looks forward to seeing the implementation of the Municipal Conduct Act and working with members to assist in the development of community codes of conduct that will allow local governance to thrive and reach its fullest potential,” stated Hudson.
Another hope is that the new Municipal Conduct Act will allow for more accessible and inclusive municipalities.
Pam Parsons, Minister Responsible for the Office of Women and Gender Equality said the government is fully committed to ensuring there is improved diversity and inclusion in political representation.
“Working to reduce gender-based harassment and barriers to professional advancement are critical steps towards that commitment,” said Parsons.
“Codes of conduct, like this one, are essential in setting standards and expectations that help create safe spaces for all employees. This proposed legislation will help promote equity and security in council chambers and municipal workplaces, thereby improving opportunities for women and members of the LGBTQQIP2SAA+ community. It assists us in ensuring ours is a society where diverse voices are not only heard, but respected and valued.”
The development of this new legislation has come at a time where social media posts on Facebook have included allegations of harassment within the Kippens Town Council.
John Hogan, a Kippens resident who has been monitoring the council situation, said the amended Act will provide a piece of the puzzle to help with ongoing issues, but that the biggest change will occur when residents cast their vote for a new council in November.
“I am optimistic that this proposed Act can help improve the respectful and productive working relationships among council officials, administrators and let’s not forget the residents and other stakeholders within the communities,” said Hogan. “By mandating the implementation of these tools to support good governance, it hopefully puts the ownership of their actions back onto council and staff.”
Hogan said a co-operative, functioning council is necessary to help municipalities adapt as the town grows, evolves and continues to function in the interests of its residents.
“Myself and many others have witnessed and have exposed some ‘grey’ areas within the operations of our town, but the most noteworthy would be the shocking display of unprofessionalism and conduct within the council chambers,” said Hogan. “Personally I see gender-based inequality taking place combined with unethical behaviour. There is an overwhelming lack of accountability, so I believe the new act will help improve this while restoring respect, professionalism and wellness within.”