'Dysfunctional' perception spurred new protocol

by Bill Jackson - The Regional

October 28, 2009

Questioned credibility is the reason behind a county council resolution that encourages single-mindedness.

Elected representatives at the municipal level have been restricted from speaking formally with senior government ministers and staff unless they have the approval of county council first.

The motion, tabled by Coun. Tony Dalimonte and seconded by Coun. Buck Slaot, was ratified by a slim 4-3 margin.

Some councillors say that it restricts them from speaking out on behalf of their constituents if their views don't jive with the majority of council members.

However, Dalimonte argues that councillors have the opportunity to express their views at the council table, but should speak with one voice at federal and provincial levels.

Dalimonte was approached by at least one senior government official about how council members handled corporate business in the past, but the councillor refused to divulge any specific details when asked who it was.

"I think that it's a credibility issue that we have right now with the province," he said. "I think they wonder who's in charge of this municipality and if we're acting cohesively. I feel that our credibility is at question here and I feel that we're viewed as dysfunctional...

"They have to be sitting there once we leave scratching their heads saying, 'You know, who are we dealing with here? Are we dealing with the councillor from ward one, two, three, four, five or six? Who's in charge? Who speaks for this municipality? Is it the CAO or the mayor? Is it Coun. (Craig) Grice, or is it Coun. Dalimonte?'"

Under the new protocol, any councillor who has an opportunity to meet with a minister may have to wait up to three weeks - the usual cycle of county council meetings - to gain council's approval, according to Grice, who voted against the new protocol along with Councillors Lorne Boyko and Leroy Bartlett.

"This motion stands against our code of conduct," he said.

Councillors have always been required to state council's position on an issue, but they could always speak their mind as well.

Section 8 under the "Code of Conduct and Complaint Protocol for Members of Council" stipulates that "No member of council shall purport to speak on behalf of the council unless he or she is authorized to do so by council."

But it also sets out that "A member of council who expresses disagreement with a decision shall make it clear that he or she is expressing a personal opinion."

The code of conduct says that members of council "shall be seen to serve in their community in a conscientious, ethical and diligent manner," Grice noted.

"That pretty much says that I should be able to do whatever I possibly can to get the voice across."

He argues that the new procedure restricts him from expressing the views of his constituents.

"This motion saus you can't even talk about them. That's wrong. You have to always be able to bring up the concerns of your constituents, because that's your job."

At a council in committee meeting on Oct. 5, Boyko argued that the protocol would censor councillors.

Dalimonte says that simply isn't the case and that he doesn't intend to muzzle his colleagues. "The minute you have councillors wandering off and setting their own meetings and setting their own agendas, you could be working against what the corporate priorities are," he said.

"We're there to represent the entire county, not just our individual wards... Councillors are elected to run the municipality as a whole and are part of a board. (They) have to respect a decision by a show of hands, by a majority vote. If that isn't democratic, I don't know what is?"

Grice argues that his board of directors is his constituents.

"What I found rather interesting is that Councilor Dalimonte does not feel that Tim Hudak (PC Leader) is addressed in that protocol or that Andrea Horwath (NDP Leader) is addressed in that protocol or that Commissioiner (Julian) Fantino (Ontario Provincial Police) is addressed in that protocol," he said.

"The protocol doesn't change anything per se."

It does, however, require that all formal meetings with ministers be arranged through the mayor's office and that an agenda be set by a majority of councillors.

"None of this can physically stop any councillor from going off on their own and saying to a minister that they disagree with a council decision," Dalimonte said.

"The motion doesn't speak to reprimands. I guess it's up to every member of council to work as a team and respect the majority vote decisions made by council. The overall objective here is to act as a team and be seen as acting as a team."