Podcasters consider council's code of conduct

Podcasters consider council's code of conduct

· The Pulse

Edmonton city council's decision to say no to updates that city administration proposed for its code of conduct bylaw caught the attention of the co-hosts of Episode 271 of Speaking Municipally.

The co-hosts noted administration's recommended changes to the bylaw were different from what councillors had expected, specifically the proposal that councillor misconduct would potentially be kept private by default. "Of course, that seems like a bad idea," said co-host Mack Male. "I think it is better for transparency for people to know when a council member breaks the code of conduct."

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

Pavlek said almost every recommendation council gets to apply the bylaw boils down to the need for a social media policy, as violations usually "come down to some level of using Twitter bad." The code of conduct has also been invoked by councillors attending political party events and complaints from the Edmonton Police Commission, and the current bylaw ensures that those actions are public knowledge.

The proposed bylaw amendments could have put councillors in an uncomfortable political situation, as they would have required council to vote to make any misconduct reports public, forcing councillors to decide to air a colleague's dirty laundry. Under the current bylaw, the reports are public by default and the decision to sanction doesn't fall to councillors but instead to the integrity commissioner.

That current state might seem more transparent but Pavlek said it might be less democratic. "It ends up feeling a lot like an unelected bureaucrat is the final arbiter on what councillors can or cannot do when they're representing their constituents," he said. Pavlek also speculated that the proposed change could have been like the council acting as a jury against itself, but that still wasn't an ideal option.

Male said another positive part of the proposed amendments was to make it a code of conduct violation to discuss violations that council had voted to keep private. He said this could protect the integrity of the process so that it would only be used for serious violations.

The podcast co-hosts also discussed the new Centennial Plaza, just south of the Stanley A. Milner library. Neither thought the $17-million project lives up to the city's description of a gathering space that encourages kids to play. "I couldn't help but think that this is bad," Pavlek said. "I felt like someone is trying to sell me a bridge. And they're obviously scamming me." Male joked that it might be the city lowering the bar for Warehouse Park, whenever it might be completed.

Listen for more about Edmonton's food truck scene, a conversation about traffic safety and the city's Vision Zero plan, a restriction on bear spray sales, and an update from the Taproot newsroom from managing editor Tim Querengesser.

Photo: City council recently voted to say no to updates that city administration proposed for its code of conduct bylaw. (Mack Male/Flickr)