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City council hires integrity cop to ensure good behaviour

Cathy Dobson Sarnia’s council has decided it’s a good idea to hire an integrity commissioner, despite the city’s 101-year history without one.

Cathy Dobson

Sarnia’s council has decided it’s a good idea to hire an integrity commissioner, despite the city’s 101-year history without one.

Robert Swayze, a municipal lawyer from Caledon with more than 40 years of experience, has been hired on a $3,000 annual retainer starting July 1. If his services are required, he’ll be paid $280 an hour plus mileage.

“Anyone can complain to me if they believe there has been a breach of the city’s Code of Conduct,” Swayze said about the document approved by council this past April.

If he receives a complaint, Swayze said he will do his own investigation and report back to council during an open meeting.

Should Swayze feel the Code has been compromised, his authority is limited to recommending to council that a reprimand occur, or that an elected official be suspended without pay for up to 90 days.

According to the Code, it’s up to council to decide if they ultimately want to take action on the commissioner’s recommendation.

Sarnia’s new Code of Conduct deals with bad behaviour on the part of councillors, such as improper receipt of gifts, inappropriate interaction with city staff, and misbehaviour at council meetings.

“But I have no jurisdiction over conflicts of interest,” Swayze said.  “That is decided by a judge.”

However, he said he is able to write reports related to conflicts of interest and comment on them.

“That in itself is certain to have political repercussions,” he said.

Swayze is already the integrity commissioner for eight other municipalities including Mississauga, Brampton, Oakville, Guelph, Port Hope, Carleton Place, Township of South Dundas and Collingwood.

Those towns and cities signed him on after the province amended the Municipal Act in 2006 to allow Ontario’s municipalities to hire integrity commissioners if they want. Toronto is the only Ontario cities that must have one.

“Codes of conduct are not perfect and they need someone to interpret and enforce them,” Swayze said.

Time will tell how often he will work in Sarnia. Some of his municipal clients keep him very busy with investigations while others rarely call, he said.

“I have about two a year from Port Hope and somewhere around 21 conflicts a year in Mississauga. But a complaint hasn’t been made to me in Oakville in four years.”

Most commonly, complaints that reach him are related to conflict of interest, gifts from lobbyists, improper use of influence and decorum, he said.

Swayze intends to meet for the first time with Sarnia’s politicians during an open session of council in September or October.

Mayor Mike Bradley is on record saying that nothing specific prompted city council to hire Swayze. In the past nine years, it’s become commonplace for Ontario municipalities to establish a process – other than elections – to let politicians know when their behaviour is not okay.

Bradley says having Swayze on retainer is a preventive measure to keep inappropriate behaviour at bay.

At least 80% of the population in Ontario now has access to an Integrity Commissioner, according to Swayze.

“Between 40 and 50 municipalities have one on retainer,” he said.

The complaint procedure is outlined in the new Code of Conduct, which can be found on the city’s website. If the issue can’t be resolved verbally, a written and signed complaint to Swayze is required using dates, times, locations and supporting documentation.

He may determine that legal affidavits are necessary.

Requests for investigations must be filed with the city clerk at city hall.

None have been submitted yet, according to deputy clerk Dianne Gould-Brown.

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