Preventing & responding to elected official conduct issues

A new resource provides guidance on ways to prevent conduct issues by local elected officials, and how best to deal with them if they do arise. Developed by the Working Group on Responsible Conduct (WGRC), this guide provides advice on fostering responsible conduct, maintaining good governance and resolving conduct issues for those who serve on Councils and Boards. It also includes considerations for local governments that wish to establish an enforcement process within a Code of Conduct.

Articulating an enforcement process within a code of conduct is a relatively new practice in B.C. The guide - Forging the Path to Responsible Conduct in Your Local Government - draws on examples from local governments that have included enforcement in their codes to highlight things a local government may wish to consider as it begins to design its own enforcement process.

In addition to consultations both with local government staff and elected officials, the guide was informed by discussions with legal experts experienced in responsible conduct matters.  

“It’s important that BC’s local governments around the province have access to the tools and resources they need so they can work hard to prevent conduct issues and remain accountable and responsive to their communities,” said Josie Osborne, Minister of Municipal Affairs. “This guide is an important step that will help local governments develop clear codes of conduct, along with effective enforcement practices and solid governance structures, so they can better serve the people who rely on their leadership.”

The guide promotes the benefits of informal approaches to resolution, which can be quicker, less divisive and less costly. There are some circumstances, though in which informal resolution is not feasible or appropriate. In such cases, a local government may choose to hold its elected officials accountable for their conduct through an enforcement process articulated within its code of conduct, so long as that process is fair.

The authors advise that conduct enforcement is a complex and evolving area of law, and that while the guide is intended to help support local government decision-making in relation to conduct matters, it does not provide legal advice, and it is not a substitute for that advice.

“Responsible conduct is not something that just happens – it needs to be articulated, encouraged and reinforced,” said Councillor Brian Frenkel, UBCM president. “This new resource builds upon a model Code of Conduct and other materials developed by the WGRC to support good governance in BC’s local governments. UBCM’s Executive had endorsed this guide and I commend its use to my colleagues.”

Code of conduct enforcement processes have two stages: determining if there has been a contravention (e.g., taking complaints; conducting investigations; making determinations), and if so, making decisions on what, if any, sanctions to impose (e.g., recommendations from investigation and/or a Council/ Board decision on sanctions). A local government seeking to enforce a Code of Conduct is obligated to ensure its decision processes are fair, particularly where the decision affects the interests of a specific individual.

“The LGMA has welcomed the opportunity to join the Ministry and UBCM in this collaborative effort to address issues related to the responsible conduct of elected officials and to support the ability of local governments to provide good governance in their communities,” says LGMA President Bill Flitton. “We encourage all CAOs to work with their Councils and Boards to take advantage of the tools and practices in this guide to support discussions to set out shared expectations for conduct.”

Forging the Path to Responsible Conduct in Your Local Government is available on the UBCM, LGMA and Ministry of Municipal Affairs websites. The WGRC welcomes feedback on this new resource. Local governments – either individually or collectively – may provide feedback by contacting Paul Taylor, Director of Communications, UBCM.

The Working Group on Responsible Conduct (WGRC), a joint initiative by the Union of British Columbia Municipalities, the Local Government Management Association of British Columbia, and the B.C. Ministry of Municipal Affairs. The staff-level Working Group undertakes collaborative research and policy work on the issue of responsible conduct of local government elected officials.

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