EDITOR - TODD LIHOU: New transparency policy a step in the right direction

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Transparency among city council members got a boost this week when councillors, by a razor-thin majority, created a new policy that now forces them to declare if they sit on an outside board or agency that is being debated for a funding increase or the like.

Call it a victory for those who want councillors to be as up-front as they can about their dealings outside city hall.

Make no mistake about it – while the clerk's department when to great pains to call this a transparency policy, it's really only about one thing: conflict of interest.

While the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and this new policy are two different things, many in the public will see them as one in the same…and who could blame them?

The real reason this policy was created is because some councillors volunteer their time on outside boards.

Poor Elaine MacDonald has been forced to bear the brunt of the spotlight because of her time as a member of the Agape Centre board.

Critics have suggested she should recuse herself from council debates when it comes to funding Agape projects with municipal money. I agree with the naysayers, not because MacDonald is up to anything, but because the perception is she's wearing two hats when it reality she should only wear one.

So now she has to announce her membership on the Agape board before debating or voting on anything at city hall related to that agency.

It smacks of closing the barn door after the horses have been stolen, or whatever, because after all this talk if one doesn’t know that MacDonald is on the Agape board, or that Denis Carr works for Heart of the City, then there's something wrong.

Creating the policy is a step in the right direction, too bad it almost got shelved again Monday night.

Mayor Bob Kilger broke a 5-5 tie when he voted in favour of creating the policy. Councillors are at odds over some of the language in the new policy, specifically who gets to make complaints should one of the members contravene the policy, and the measures that can take place in closed session to censure that individual.

"If a member repeatedly refuses to comply with this policy, the head of council shall invite the member to disclose any participation in a board, committee or organization, for the sake of transparency and public knowledge. Council may, by majority vote in-camera, reprimand the member."

Critics at the council table argue it's ludicrous for a transparency policy to include language that keeps debate concerning a councillor's conduct behind closed doors.

But let's call a spade and spade - what they're really mad about is having their knuckles wrapped by other members for stepping out of line.

The Municipal Conflict of Interest law has left it up to members of council to decide for themselves if they should recuse themselves from debate.

The city's new policy now opens the door for other councillors to call out an individual if those other council members feel the rules have been broken.

I'd love to be around for the first time someone like Gerry Samson suggests to Denis Thibault that the latter has forgotten to make a declaration about being a member of an outside board.

Talk about an argument (read: fight) worth the price of admission.

Thibault, using some colourful language that can't be repeated in a family newspaper but apparently can be uttered in council chambers, suggested Monday night he wouldn’t receive such criticism lightly.

The fact is, by way of council's vote this week, the perception is that council is trying to make itself as transparent as possible.

It's now up to those same councillors, and perhaps some new ones later this year, to make sure the new rules are followed.

Time will tell.

Organizations: Agape board, Agape Centre

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