Empowering local citizens: Restoring democracy by making Mission’s municipal government accountable and ethical.
The citizens of Mission recognize that the chief function of local government, at all times, is to serve the best interests of the people of Mission. Decisions must not undermine Mission’s long-term fiscal, social and environmental sustainability. For this reason, citizens have created this code of conduct outlining our expectations of elected officials. We believe that adherence to this code of conduct will result not only in more ethical and fair decisions, but also more responsible and beneficial decisions for the community. Enhanced citizen participation can be used as a benchmark to evaluate the effectiveness of more transparent, inclusive and fair governance. We welcome public feedback. Please send us your comments and suggestions about this document.
Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct:
By Tracy Lyster
With input and assistance from MyMission members Mike Gildersleeve, Hilde Tonkens, Mike Diener, Phyllis Young, Kevin Francis, Don Mair, Sieglinde Stieda, Jeanette Smith, Nikki Watkinson, Anne Arsenault, Matt Johnson, Othmar Kagi
Ensure decisions and community goals are based on complete and accurate information. Ensure technical information, including environmental studies, is completed at arms length from proponents Bearing in mind unique individual circumstances, treat like cases alike and uphold and implement municipal policies adopted by elected officials. Decisions should as much as possible reflect longer-term community goals instead of short-term gains for individuals.
Resist any encroachment on council responsibilities, believing the member should be free to carry out official policies without interference, and handle each problem without discrimination on the basis of principle and justice.
Treat all citizens regardless of background, ethnicity, sex, age, orientation and belief as equal under the law, the UN charter and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/Collection/CH37-4-3-2002E.pdf).
Ensure public is informed about municipal issues and there is opportunity for meaningful public input into these issues. Keep the community informed on municipal affairs, encourage communication between the citizens and all municipal officers; emphasize friendly and courteous service to the public and seek to improve the quality and image of public service. Information should be readily and easily available to the citizen. New means of communication other than the traditional forms (papers, websites) should be explored to ensure every citizen could access information. Do not assume that everyone has access to a computer.
Hold regular Town Hall meetings in various neighborhoods in order for council to hear the concerns of the neighborhood and to provide opportunity for public participation and debate and dialogue on important issues- in particular land use decisions and budget planning.
Public question period should not be reduced due to council verbosity. Allow citizens to fairly represent themselves and adequately have time to state their case and ask questions for council during meetings. Allow specific agenda related questions after each item before council votes and close the meeting no later than 9:00 pm to allow sufficient time for general questions.
Provide written answers to citizens’ questions either in the minutes of the meeting or as a separate agenda item for the next council meeting.
No late items unless there is an emergency.
Ensure all socioeconomic, ethnic, and community groups are represented on major policy projects such as the OCP, neighborhood planning.
Ensure the process and guidelines are clearly set out as to how meetings will be run in accordance with procedural fairness. Ensure citizens are respected and avoid harassment of speakers or other conduct that undermines public participation. Provide public education about municipal affairs and any major up and coming issues ensuring that there is ample and at least reasonable notice for any special meetings held by Council.
Do not hold important public meetings during times when people usually not expected to be available e.g. during the summer or holiday season. If this still needs to happen, then provide time and opportunity for people to send in a letter with comments.
Ensure all relevant information on any issue is available on Mission website, at Mission’s city hall and at the library.
ENCOURAGE PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
Provide hard copies of agenda on request to individuals or to groups.
Fee barriers to Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests should be eliminated
Ensure there are clear and specific limits to in-camera meetings.
All members of a council have the duty to seek a determination on the appropriateness of a proposed in-camera session from the BC FOI and Privacy Commissioner’s Office if they feel the meeting should not be held in-camera.
We believe the district of Mission should be spending within its means. This means that we need to avoid borrowing and saddling citizens with debt. There needs to be prioritization of spending for projects needed for the health and long term sustainability of the community before other major projects are considered.
Institute a District wide audit to reveal any irregularities in operational expenses. Increases in operational expenses should be tied to population growth.
Ensure a cost benefit analysis is completed for every project/proposal at arms length from proponents. Ensure there is a project manager who conducts a risk assessment for every major project.
Respect Mission taxpayers. Raises for staff and councilors should be tied to municipal spending. No raises for the mayor and council if property taxes rise. Make raises contingent on staying within the budget. Recognize it is unethical and illegal to institute policies and bylaws which provide a benefit to a business at the expense of Mission taxpayers.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Currently there are no conflict of interest provisions covering municipal politicians in the province despite the fact that many have called for such ethical oversight.
We believe the District of Mission needs to have clear conflict of interest guidelines enshrined in policy.
Councilors and city staff should seek no favour and believe that personal enrichment or profit secured by confidential information or by misuse of public time is dishonest. In general, a conflict of interest exists for mayor, councilors or staff who use their position at the city hall to benefit themselves, their friends or their family.
Conflict of interest exists where a public official has a private or personal interest sufficient to influence the objective exercise of his or her official duties. The conflict may be:
- Real conflict of interest: The mayor, councilors and staff should not accept gifts, favours or money from suppliers, employment by another organization, ownership of a significant part of another organization or business, for passing along confidential or privileged information or for voting in favour of a specific decision.
- Perceived conflict of interest: The Mayor, councilors and city staff should avoid situations which could be seen as a conflict of interest, despite good intentions on the part of the councilor or city staff member.
- Potential conflict of interest: The mayor, councilors and city staff are expected to perform their duties conscientiously and in a manner which will not put their personal interest in conflict with the best interests of the people of Mission.
Each elected official should be required to fully disclosure all circumstances that could be construed as a conflict of interest and get recommendations for any actions needed to eliminate a conflict of interest.
TRANSPARENCY OF DECISIONS
It is council’s responsibility to ensure they are fully informed about any decision before they vote.
Every municipal decision-making process must be open and there has to be fair and ample opportunity for the public to comment or ask questions. Ensure minutes from the work of all municipal committees are available to the public.
Develop a useful form of public accountability explanation called an Equity Statement (Esq.). The statement sets out, for proponents of an intention that would affect the public in important ways:
1. Who would gain what benefits from what is proposed, and why they should, in both the short and long term.
2. Who would bear what costs and risks, and why they should, in both the short and longer term.
3. And assuming the proposal was to go ahead, who would be required to meet what standard of performance.
All contracts must be vetted in an open public process with at least 2 applicants before the contract is awarded.
In addition, transparency of decisions will be enhanced by broadcasting of municipal council meetings on cable TV and creating Hansard (verbatim) minutes of public meetings.
This code of ethics shall be reviewed annually.