August 21, 2013

Mayor faces reprimands at CVC board meeting

As published in The Erin Advocate

The simmering dispute between Erin Mayor Lou Maieron and fellow members of the Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) Board of Directors may come to a boil next month as they vote on penalizing him for refusing to sign their Code of Conduct.

The mayor has consistently opposed the idea of a code, arguing that the public interest is already well protected by various laws governing council members, and that a code complaint could be misused as a weapon among political opponents.

In this regard he is quite correct. The trend of adopting codes of conduct is well-intentioned, but any attempt to legislate courtesy, respect and common sense is bound to be difficult to enforce. With politicians sitting in judgment of each other, the average citizen is not likely to perceive much benefit from the process.

Maieron is making a stand as a matter of principle, but as a political strategy it could well backfire. With a widespread lack of confidence in the system, people are often skeptical, baffled or outright hostile when it comes to politicians.

Most taxpayers, even the few who actually vote, don’t care much about codes of conduct or the intricacies of endless arguments. By being opposed to a code that promotes good behaviour, the mayor risks creating a negative impression.

He has argued that the board has no authority to enact the Code of Conduct, but with the full board and their lawyer against him, it’s not an argument he can win.

The CVC situation is entirely separate from the one at the Town of Erin, where a Code of Ethics complaint has been made against a member of Town Council. The nature of that complaint and the identity of the member remain a secret while an integrity commissioner investigates, but Maieron has said he believes the complaint is against him.

The CVC code is less formal, with no confidentiality and no integrity commissioner. But unlike the Erin code, it requires each member to sign an agreement to adhere to it. That seems unnecessary and a bit petty. Although he opposed adoption of the code, Maieron agrees he is bound by its provisions – except that he won’t actually sign his agreement. That seems a bit petty as well.

After the mayor loses a political battle, he tends to look for opportunities to carry on the arguments. He has every right to do so, but others have the right to question his judgment.

The CVC complaint was made on April 12 by Halton Hills Councillor Joan Robson. A special committee of three other board members met to discuss the situation, and at the June 14 meeting, they brought two alternatives to the board for consideration. Maieron was not in attendance at that meeting, and there were no board meetings in July and August, so the vote on possible reprimands against him was deferred to the September 13 meeting.

One alternative would have the board apply a series of escalating reprimands, starting with a request for an apology. His board pay could be suspended for 90 days and the process could culminate in a request to the Town of Erin to appoint someone other than the mayor to represent Erin on the CVC board.

The committee suggests the board “grant a week between each successive reprimand to allow the member an opportunity to reconsider, sign and submit the signed form.”

They also said the board may want to consider changing the Code of Conduct, “to allow members of the board to swear that they verbally agree to adhere to the Code”, during the public portion of a meeting.

It would certainly be an anti-climax if he offered to “swear” allegiance to the Code after this long battle, and perhaps a disappointment to board members who have grown so weary of his tactics that they would be glad to see him replaced.

He has made his point about the Code, at great length and on many occasions, and it may be to his advantage to let the issue go.