Nanaimo councillors are moving toward creating a policy that would spell out how they ought to behave as elected officials.
At a special committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 7, city councillors discussed the idea of creating a code of conduct policy or bylaw, which would provide a foundation for how councillors should conduct themselves and behave among themselves, with staff and the public.
Mayor Leonard Krog said councillors campaigned on the idea of restoring good governance and voters expect them to behave responsibly.
“I think all of us campaigned on the assumption and the presumption that we would be bringing in a code of conduct, that we would put the pen to paper, that we would express in meaningful language and hopefully language that wasn’t too legalistic, exactly what the voters supported, which was a recognition that they wanted their council to act in a mature, respectful way,” he said.
The move comes after years of dysfunction on previous Nanaimo councils. In 2016, former councillor Gord Fuller made headlines nationwide after he told then-mayor Bill McKay to “bite me” during a meeting. In 2013, a Vancouver-based governance consultancy firm released a report detailing tension, physical altercations and even name-calling among Nanaimo city council and city staff members.
Currently, the city has a governance protocol policy, which contains language calling on councillors to ensure they work together in a respectful manner. There is also a pledge Nanaimo councillors can sign regarding their behaviour, conduct, performance, roles and responsibilities as an elected official.
However, the city has no formal code of conduct policy, despite a now-defunct governance steering committee labelling the development of such a policy as “high” priority in 2013.
Cities such as Maple Ridge and Prince George have code of conduct policies, while the District of Lantzville is considering adopting a code of conduct bylaw according to a recent staff report, which notes that the Union of British Columbia Municipalities developed its own code of conduct that can be used by local governments throughout the province.
The report goes on to state that code of conduct policies are “fairly easy” to develop and modify compared to a bylaw. It also suggests councillors consider adopting the UBCM’s code of conduct as it has “simplified much of the work.”
During Monday’s meeting, councillors mulled over whether to create a code of conduct from scratch or modify an existing one.
Coun. Ian Thorpe said while he liked Prince George’s model compared to those in Port Moody, Maple Ridge and Lantzville, he felt the best approach would be to adopt the UBCM’s model.
“I feel we would be better served to stay with the UBCM model unless there is anything specific that councillors identify in the Prince George model that they would like added in or taken out from the UBCM model,” he said. “I think that might be the easiest way to tackle this.”
Coun. Erin Hemmens said Prince George’s code of conduct really appealed to her because of how it was written.
“It was really clear. It’s really accessible and if residents were reading it they would really get it,” she said.
Krog said part of him supports the idea of a code of conduct bylaw, but another part of him supports a code of conduct as a policy. He said Lantzville’s code of conduct bylaw sounded “like a lawyer” had written it, adding that he would prefer Nanaimo’s code of conduct to be written so that anyone could easily read and understand it.
Councillors didn’t formally vote on any measures during the meeting. Instead, they agreed to allow staff to work on a draft code of conduct policy that will blend the UBCM and Prince George models.
A date has not been set yet, but council expects to adopt a code of conduct policy sometime in February.