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Podcasters consider council code of conduct

Podcasters consider council code of conduct
Podcasters consider council code of conduct

Edmonton city council’s decision to vote no on city council’s proposed updates to its code of conduct bylaw caught the attention of the co-hosts of episode 271 of Speaking Municipally.

The co-hosts noted that the changes to the ordinance recommended by the administration were different than what council members had expected, particularly the proposal that council member misconduct might be kept private by default. “That seems like a bad idea, of course,” co-host Mack Male said. “I think it’s better for transparency that people know when a council member is in violation of the code of conduct.”

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told the council he didn’t know how keeping things secret was in the interest of transparency. But co-host Troy Pavlek expressed sympathy for the recommended change. “The code of conduct bylaw is ostensibly about the council itself,” Pavlek said. “It’s the self-policing of the council and they’ve never really chosen to exercise any of those (powers), even when there were gross violations of the code of conduct bylaw.”

Pavlek said nearly every recommendation council receives to implement the bylaw comes down to the need for a social media policy, since violations often “depend on poor Twitter use.” The code of conduct has also been invoked by council members attending political party events and by complaints from the Edmonton Police Service. The current bylaw ensures that those actions are public.

The proposed changes to the bylaw could have put councillors in an awkward political situation, as they would have required the council to vote to make reports of misconduct public, forcing councillors to air a colleague’s dirty laundry. Under the current bylaw, reports are public by default and the decision to impose sanctions does not lie with councillors, but with the integrity commissioner.

That current state may seem more transparent, but Pavlek said it could be less democratic. “It ultimately feels like an unelected bureaucrat is the final arbiter of what council members can and cannot do when representing their constituents,” he said. Pavlek also speculated that the proposed change could be like the council acting as a jury against itself, but that was still not an ideal option.

Male said another positive element of the proposed amendments was to make it a code of conduct offence to discuss offences that the council had decided to hold. He said this could protect the integrity of the process so that it would only be used for serious offences.

The podcast co-hosts also discussed the new Centennial Plaza, just south of the Stanley A. Milner Library. Neither thought the $17 million project lived up to the city’s description of a gathering place that encourages kids to play. “I couldn’t help but think this is bad,” Pavlek said. “I felt like someone was trying to sell me a bridge. And they’re clearly ripping me off.” Male joked that perhaps the city was lowering the bar for Warehouse Park, whenever it’s completed.

Hear more about Edmonton’s food truck scene, a conversation about traffic safety and the city’s Vision Zero plan, a restriction on the sale of bear spray, and an update from Taproot’s newsroom from Editor-in-Chief Tim Querengesser.