By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Coaldale council heard additional changes to the Code of Conduct and Council Procedural bylaws as a result of the Municipal Accountability Program’s (MAP) audit findings and subsequent report completed earlier this year.
As a result, administration has implemented additional recommendations and clarifying language with respect to wording in the Council Procedural Bylaw (836-GE-12-21) and the Code of Conduct Bylaw (837-GE- 12-21). Lana Antony, legislative coordinator for the Town of Coaldale, presented on the change of wording in the Council Procedural Bylaw.
“Following the Legislative Services Departmental Orientation Workshop, administration was instructed to update and amend Bylaw 836-GE-12-21 to reflect the governance preferences of current Council,” Antony said.
Antony said the amended bylaw states, “before a vote is taken by council, a councillor may request that the vote be recorded. When a vote is recorded, the minutes must show the names of the councillors present and whether each councillor voted for or against the proposed (item) or abstained (from the vote).”
Coaldale council was previously recording votes in the minutes whether a request was made or not, but Antony said this previously adopted practice was not compliant under the Municipal Government Act. Essentially, when a motion comes forward and a councillor would like the minutes to reflect which councillor voted for which outcome, that must be requested prior to the vote taking place.
CAO Kalen Hastings also gave an overview of the amendment to Bylaw 837-GE-12-21. Following the audit done by Municipal Affairs through the MAP, a few changes to the Council Code of Conduct Bylaw were identified. Hastings said under the direction of legal counsel, three areas of the bylaw received re-wording and clarification. Hastings also said, administration took this as an opportunity to update some of the language in the bylaw to provide additional clarity where needed and to align the bylaw with best practices.
The first change is with respect to the language used in Bylaw 837-GE-12-21, which pertains to awarding contracts. It now specifies that council, “must approve in advance, all agreements between a councillor who has a pecuniary interest in a contract in Coaldale for the provision of a good or service valued at more than $2500 (with the exception of) any agreements pertaining to a good or service provided during an emergency.”
Hastings added the wording has been changed to include, “that all agreements between a councillor who has a pecuniary interest in said contract in Coaldale for the provision of a good or service less than $2,500 must be at competitive prices for fair market value.”
Hastings also reiterated that, although the amended verbiage gives administration the ability to award contracts worth less than $2,500 without the proposal going before council, the amendment doesn’t negate or change what qualifies as a conflict of interest.
“You could be in a conflict of pecuniary interest for a dollar and the consequence is the same if it is $1 million. The optics are different but (the legislation is) black and white. This clause is looking at a procedural step as to whether something comes to council for approval,” Hastings said, and added the amendment was intended to be a, “permission control threshold for whether administration can award a purchasing contract.”
“It’s to avoid situations such as if you have to go get cookies or donuts from somewhere, that would be considered immaterial and to get council approval before you buy donuts would be silly. The intent was to avoid those unnecessary red tape steps so we can actually operate without being discriminatory toward a business for something we may need.”
There was brief discussion among council relating to the numerical specification of $2,500 in the emended portion of the bylaw. Mayor Jack Van Rijn made a suggestion to increase the $2,500 threshold, and Coun. Bill Chapman expressed he would like to see a decrease in the threshold to “improve transparency and accountability.”
“My last comment is that we have to have confidence in our town staff that they know (what) they are doing when they go and hire a plumber to to a $2,600 job, he’s not going to come back every week or month and do the same job over and over again, we don’t have to over-exaggerate this,” said Van Rijn.
Chapman cited that conflict of interest concerns have arisen, “in the past.”
The final change to the bylaw is in reference to council orientation and other training. According to the MAP review, “explicit reference had to made to council’s commitment to training in the code of conduct bylaw,” which was not previously explicitly stated. As a result, wording was inserted by the Town’s legal counsel in response to this gap identified in the MAP report. Deputy Mayor Jacen Abrey moved for the first reading on the amendments to Bylaw 837-GE-12-21 and the motion was carried unanimously by council.