Saanich council shifted its proposed code of conduct update to its March 9 meeting. This is the second time the subject has been rescheduled.
The code update was originally scheduled to be presented at the Feb. 24 council meeting, but due to a time restraint over concerns around a potential review of policies for off-leash dogs on beaches, it was removed from the agenda.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes says the second rescheduling of the code update was strictly administrative due to the absence of Coun. Susan Brice, chair of the finance committee responsible for the proposed updates.
Coun. Nathalie Chambers feels the proposed changes could stop her from holding council accountable.
Chambers says her concerns date back to the code’s creation in 2016 and she believes residents share the concern.
Haynes says he was unaware of Chambers concerns until contacted by Black Press Media. He feels the “code of conduct is designed to facilitate open and transparent communication.”
The proposed policy update is minor, according to Brice. The two most noteworthy changes to the code are in sect. 6.2 and 6.3 which focus on how council members conduct themselves on social media.
Section 6.2 of the code outlines that councillors should provide a disclaimer stating that their opinions are their own and not a reflection of council. It also states that when expressing personal opinions on social platforms council members should add the verbiage, ‘in my opinion’. The update that Chambers seems to be most concerned about is section 6.3, where it outlines that council members are to refrain from generating or recirculating, “negative statements disparaging other members of council.” Chambers is concerned over who will determine which comments are disparaging, and that the changes to the code could suppress her ability to share her opinion with the public.
Brice says that in order for disciplinary action to take place from a disparaging comment, a complaint would have to be submitted for review, and in most cases be dealt with informally. She adds, if a complaint was escalated, it would be reviewed by a third party and not a member of council.
Chambers hopes to see a bylaw replace the code – one that would not bind councillors from informing the public.
Chambers believes a bylaw such as one in place for Victoria council, would better protect counsellors as it does not mention social media use among council members.
Brice believes that the purpose of the code is not to stifle the opinions of councillors, and that the adoptions of codes of conduct have become increasing popular which she suspects to be a result of the accelerated use of social media.
– With files from Devon Bidal.
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