What White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin intended to accomplish this week when he introduced a proposed Code of Ethics and Conduct for Members of Council is not entirely clear.
The document, tabled at a governance and legislation committee meeting Monday, was not well-received by his colleagues. All but Coun. Bill Lawrence, who chaired the committee and remained mum, said they had no intention of signing the agreement, the essence of which they felt was covered by their oath of office.
Baldwin later explained the proposed code came about after complaints about the level of respect among council members.
While it’s encouraging to see the mayor attempting to restore decorum to council – which has had more than a few squabbles this term – and equally as refreshing to see members of the White Rock Coalition assert individual independence, portions of the proposed code raise more questions.
One highlight would prevent members of council from “any public or private criticism of our administration wherein individual employees are identified.” Should elected officials not be encouraged to speak out – whether in support or opposition – of city initiatives? Is that not, in part, what they are elected to do?
Of course, city staff members do not deserve to be dragged through the mud, but that hardly means council members must remain silent on matters of city business. A quick look at the Marine Drive hillside, the overhaul of waste collection and the ongoing issue of highrise development, and we are reminded of the many divisive issues that warranted a much more critical – and public – debate by city leaders.
Other commitments outlined in Baldwin’s code include referring complaints about council decisions or actions to the chief administrative officer for review and followup, and refraining from making commitments on behalf of council to groups or citizens. Had these rules been implemented, it would seem to be yet an additional communication roadblock between residents and the elected officials they trust.
Whether the intent behind the covenant was a genuine step towards a more cohesive council, or an attempt to muzzle its members, we will risk being patronizing and remind all elected officials – as noted in one of the document’s bullet points – that they are to “make decisions… in the best interest of the citizens.”