EDITORIAL – It’s OK for council members to disagree with one another
An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
IT SEEMS SELF-EVIDENT that every political body should have a code of conduct for itself but, surprisingly, it’s not always the case.
Kamloops City council is looking at wording for a code of conduct in order to get out ahead of provincial legislation that will soon require it. The basis of it comes from a working group that includes the Municipal Affairs Ministry and the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
Most of it is hard to argue with — council members shouldn’t break the law, for example. Be respectful to the public. Handle confidential information confidentially. Don’t be mean to staff. No conflicts of interest.
But there are parts of the proposed Code that are worrisome. The parts I’m talking about have to do with the freedom of council members to disagree with their colleagues.
For example, the proposed code states that “council members must not publish or report information or make statements attacking or reflecting negatively on staff or Council members.”
“Reflecting negatively” is so broad and vague you could drive a City transit bus through it. If you even question the wisdom of a decision, that could be interpreted as “reflecting negatively.”
Under a section called “Use of Social Media,” council members are admonished against reporting “directly on City related business.”
Well, why not, for Heaven’s sake? Getting information to the public is part of the job.
When posting on social media or talking to media, council members would be obligated to use the term “in my opinion” to make sure nobody is confused about whose opinion it is. Seriously.
It’s all a bit anal. Council members should always be respectful of each other, of course, but politics isn’t always a Nice Guy proposition. I’m not talking about name-calling; I simply mean it should be OK to disagree with each other strenuously and publicly. And, of course, respectfully.
The code of conduct needs to recognize that; otherwise it’s not worth doing.
I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A great deal of water has flowed under the Halston Bridge since one councillor likened a proposed rehab centre near Rayleigh as building a “concentration camp”. The notion of putting up a big fence around living quarters and making people abide by rules seems inhumane, was another comment.
One might ask that councillor to describe how “Moira House” is so much different from what was viewed as inhumane treatment and being like a “concentration camp”.
Of course, the inference to the treatment of Jewish people during the holocaust was a comment to which most other on council would have disagreed.
And on a second thought, enacting laws to limit dissenting opinions is in itself a form of intimidation.
It should be the law that council members MUST disagree with each other and especially with staff. We can’t be equating disagreement with any sort of display of incivility. And it should be perfectly ok to show emotion on occasions.