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Sudbury to retain an 'integrity commish' to probe complaints about city council

Report recommends hiring someone on a contract basis, rather than adding full-time staff
If Greater Sudbury wants to hire an integrity commissioner, it should be on a contract basis rather than hiring one full-time, says a report headed to city council next week. (File)

If Greater Sudbury wants to hire an integrity commissioner, it should be on a contract basis rather than hiring one full-time, says a report headed to city council next week.

Currently, the Ontario Ombudsman's office acts as the city's integrity commissioner, the report said, and any ethics complaints are sent there.

Councillors would have to reconsider that decision, made in 2015, by a two-thirds majority in order to hire someone else to do the job.

The reason to do that is that the ombudsman “has declined involvement in inquiries relating to council member conduct in favour of municipalities appointing or otherwise retaining the services of an Integrity Commissioner,” a staff report on the plan says. 

And the Municipal Act has been amended to require municipalities to appoint an integrity commissioner by March 2019.

“Anticipating these changes and in response to the auditor general’s recommendation that funds be used to conduct 'investigations of systemic or serious complaints about members of council,' staff indicated to the audit committee on Oct.24, 2017, that they would bring a report in January 2018 regarding the implementation of an integrity commissioner who could perform such investigations.”

To hire an integrity commissioner, council will have to determine what their role and responsibilities are; develop a complaint protocol; prepare a new code of conduct for councillors; and, prepare a bylaw to establish the office.

The commissioner would be impartial and independent from council with investigative powers. They would handle a variety of duties, including investigating conflict of interest allegations, offering advice to council about their obligations under the Act, answer questions about ethics and provide education about their responsibilities as local politicians under the law.

“Upon an Integrity Commissioner’s finding that a member has contravened the code of conduct, the municipality may choose to reprimand or suspend the pay of a member for up to 90 days,” the report says.

The commissioners can also apply to a judge to determine whether a councillor has violated conflict of interest rules. The city would be on the hook for whatever those applications cost.

Currently, only Toronto employs a full-time integrity commissioner, and the report recommends hiring someone on “an as-needed basis,” rather than full-time.

“The successful proponent will be required to enter into a formal agreement for a term of five years and, along with the usual service provider language, the agreement will require the proponent to agree to avoidance of conflict of interest, which shall include avoidance of political campaigning or endorsement,” the report says. “It is difficult to know how many inquiries and complaints will be received by the integrity commissioner in the first year, but staff anticipate integrity commissioner services may be in the rage of 250-300 hours annually.”

A key element of the commissioner's work will be a complaint protocol that would detail how to make a request, who can make a request, and the information required when filing a request.

“Additionally, the complaint protocol would provide the integrity commissioner with the opportunity to determine whether the conduct forming the subject of the complaint, on its face, is a contravention of the code of conduct,” the report says. “This would permit the integrity commissioner to exercise his or her professional training, experience and judgment to assess whether he/she should proceed to investigate the complaint or to decline to investigate the complaint for such reasons as a lack of reasonable grounds, the complaint being frivolous or vexatious, or lack of jurisdiction. 

“Furthermore, the integrity commissioner would be empowered through the protocol to employ alternative dispute resolution processes (for example, mediation) in order to remedy complaints, if possible, before they become formal inquiries.”

While the integrity commissioner would investigate complaints about city councillors, complaints about city staff would still be handled by the auditor general, through the wrongdoing hotline the city created last year.