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Kelowna council adopts new code of conduct

Kelowna council adopted its code of conduct, which will guide how they act as elected officials.

The new code of conduct was reviewed and approved on Monday, despite a few concerns about the vagueness around the bullying and harassment section.

Work has been ongoing since March to nail down the policy which will outline general conduct as an elected official, interactions with staff and the public, meeting conduct, use of public resources, leaves of absence and even social media use.

A few amendments were also included for guidelines in regard to gifts and conflicts of interest.

Council was told there are specific guidelines for leaves of absences should a member of council choose to run for nomination for an MLA.

“A council member who is running for elected office outside of a local government election should consider requesting a leave of absence from council once the writ is dropped for that elevation to avoid conflicts of interest,” the policy says.

Anyone running for a nomination outside of a local government election will not serve as deputy mayor and will not represent council on internal or external committees, task forces or agencies.

“The section that talks about stepping aside from committees and task forces does not apply to the regional district board, which is a bit of a statutory beast if I can put it that way,” said city clerk Stephen Fleming.

“With city council having the number of required seats on it and a need for alternates, it wasn't felt that it should be something that fit into the policy.”

Mayor Tom Dyas said there could be potential conflict of interest while a council member runs for a nomination or a candidate of a political party. That person could be “carrying the voices” of what city council stands for or what the political party stands for.

At the end of August, coun. Mohini Singh announced that she is running for nomination under the BC United banner in the new Kelowna-Lake Country-Coldstream riding.

Under the new code of conduct, she will need to step away from any committees or task forces she is on.

<who> Photo Credit: City of Kelowna

As for the sections around bullying and harassment, coun. Loyal Woolridge thought the wording of the policy was a bit vague.

“I’ve run into challenges with this with other organizations, unless it is specifically outlined what that means, its left up to interpretation,” said coun. Wooldridge.

“I’m just wondering why we’ve chosen to take a very brief statement on what seems to be the main objective of this entire project.”

The policy reads as: “Council members will not engage with others, including residents, staff, committee members and other council members, in a manner that is abusive, bullying, intimidating or derogatory.”

Fleming said there were other rules in place that apply to interactions and requirements that ensures there is a respectful workplace for staff.

“So, if there were negative interactions between elected officials and members of staff might fall under other existing rules and obligations,” explained Fleming, adding that those types of interactions were normally dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Fleming did say there was an opportunity for revisions as the city uses the new policy, however.

Coun. Woolridge, who also chairs the regional district board, said he'd like to see a more robust policy. He noted that the regional district just approved a 17-page policy for board members.

Coun. Mohini Singh agreed that the section needed to be more detailed and clarified to include definitions of what exactly bullying and/or intimidation was.

“Having been through situations where, in previous terms, I felt very minimized and I did feel bullied maybe, or intimidated, or put down and it did hinder me from doing my civic duty of speaking up as strongly as I wished to,” said coun. Singh.

“I’m speaking from a very heartfelt situation. I know there were others who were in the same situation but we never wanted to speak up because it just put us in a place where we didn’t want to speak up for ourselves.”

Fleming said staff tried to leave it open for the unique circumstances of each case and did not want to lay out “prescriptive” dos and don’ts for these types of situations. He added that there were also guidelines under the Community Charter.

Coun. Woolridge wanted the policy to be deferred to a committee of the whole meeting to workshop the wording around the definitions of bullying and harassment, because he said without clear definitions, enforcement would be tricky.

Mayor Dyas said it was difficult to defer this because of the things that have been imposed on council, such as the province requiring all municipalities to consider whether they want to establish a code of conduct within six months of council’s first meeting.

Ultimately, Kelowna City Council approved the code of conduct as is with an unanimous vote.



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