Some pretty hypocriticalbehaviour on the part of some council members - will a Code of Conduct make any difference?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

February 16th, 2018



On March 1st there will be a council Workshop about the Code of Conduct for members of city council that the majority of this council just do not want.

A Code of Conduct was discussed at some length on a number of occasions during the first term of this council in 2011.

At a meeting in July of 2015, the last meeting before Council went on their six week summer vacation in the summer of that year, Councillors  Craven and Sharman had a discussion in the foyer outside the Council Chamber.  Both went to their seats when the conversation concluded; Sharman said a few words to Councillor Lancaster who sits beside Sharman and the meeting began.


Later in the meeting Councillor Lancaster introduced a motion, seconded by Councillor Sharman to replace wording in the Code of Conduct that had been taken out at an earlier meeting.

No one had seen the motion until it was introduced – not the Clerk or the Mayor. All the chatter about professionalism and respect for each other got blown out the window.

The final vote on what to do with the Code of Conduct was to refer what had been done up to that point  to the City Manager who assured council he would move with some dispatch; debated under the Governance section of the Strategic Plan. One of the problems is that Strategic Plan meetings are for the most part not recorded or broadcast on the city’s web site.

The firm that provides Ombudsman support services to the city, ADR Chambers prepared a detailed document on this for staff; the City Clerk worked hard to get a document in place – council didn’t let it happen.

Among the issues that cropped up during the 2010-2014 term of office was whether or not the council member for ward 2 could involve herself in the affairs of ward 1. No love lost between those two.

The matter of what was a gift to a council member and what wasn’t a gift got debated as well as what the ramifications to a council member would be should they happen to be off side.

The Gazette published articles on this in  in July of 2015 and again in November of 2015 when the issue was discussed on Cogeco cables The Issue.

There was another article on November 16th, 2016 and on January 30th, 2016.

Earlier this week there was a Committee of the Whole meeting that agreed to have a Task Force formed on bullying and harassment in the city. The members of council feel there is just too much harassment being aimed their way and they want to see some rules in place to manage this behaviour.

What a bunch of hypocrites; they are complaining about the way citizens with well founded concerns about the way growth is being managed who will not ensure that there is a Code of Conduct governing their behaviour.  There has been a code in place for city staff that is enforced.  What’s good for the goose doesn’t appear too appeal to the gander.

Bullying – what does one call the letter sent to ECoB by the City Manager threatening legal action if they did not remove some of the content on their web site. A conversation inviting the ECoB people to meet with the City Manager and talk about the information that was on the web site could have resolved the issue.

No carrots in the office of the City Manager – just big sticks.

In 2012 the then city manager Jeff Fielding said that the behaviour of a council member came very close to sexual harassment. Earlier the council member had been identified as being in a personal relationship with a member of the Planning department – those things are no no’s.

Councillor Sharman and Director of Transit Donna Shepherd working trhrough a budget document

Councillor Sharman and then Director of Transit Donna Shepherd working through a budget document.

Sharman and Shepherd never did have a close working relationship. Did this contribute to her retirement?

Her body language says it all. Shepherd retired later in the year.

At the Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday Councillor Sharman complained of a delegator who eyeballed every member of council in what he felt was a threatening manner before leaving the chamber. Sharman said it was “uncomfortable “.

Dumb behavior is dumb behaviour and it is not to be tolerated. How we manage it is another matter.

During the council meeting on the Task Force Lancaster was proposing Councillor Sharman spoke frequently about misinformation and seemed to be suggesting that what was going on in Nazi Germany during WWII may be now taking place in Burlington; propaganda and misinformation. The Councillor is watching too much television.

Transit - unhappy customer

This citizen was unhappy about transit service. At the time the city was doing nothing about transitr until a new staff member did an analysis of some data and told the city manager there were serious problems. The citizens had been right for some time – but they weren’t listened to.

Unhappy parent

A parent who didn’t want the high school his child was attending closed.

As I listened to the debate via the web cast there was never any sense that the harassment council members are getting is something they take any responsibility for – the public is upset, very upset. They don’t like what they see their council doing to them and when they find that their delegations are not being heard they react.

Brian Wrixton, the Chair of the Inclusivity Advisory Committee made a very strong point when he said at Committee “there was a lot of educating to be done”.

This council isn’t talking about educating – they are talking about rules they want to see in place to control what happens. Councillor Craven wants to see something in the Procedural bylaw that permits the chair of a meeting to do something with a delegation that is upsetting the members of council. “All a chair can do now” he said “is adjourn the meeting.”

There is some very nasty racist behaviour coming out of the Alton community and that is not to be tolerated. It takes time to erase racist attitudes – ham fisted responses don’t work – never have.

Change gets brought about by leadership – usually from the top. Citizens are finding that they have a city council that just does not want to hear what their concerns are; that their Council has become close to bloody minded in their behaviour. They seem prepared to let the electorate decide if they are doing their job at the election that will take place at the end of October.

With no one coming forward in wards 1, 4 and 5; a possible candidate that might not be much different than what is there now in ward 6, we stand to end up with a council that will be on the wrong end of 4-3 votes.

Wallace at council meeting

Mike Wallace taking in a city council meeting, wondering perhaps what the Chain of Office will look like on his shoulders.

There is more than enough evidence to suggest that the current Mayor is in serious electoral trouble; the question is will the people of Burlington take a leap of faith with Meed Ward or fall back to former city Councillor and Member of Parliament Mike Wallace.

Related articles:

January 30 – 2017 – Clerk gets handed the hot potato issue.

November 16, 2016 – Province begins to nudge the municipalities

November 6, 2015 – Cogeco’s The Issue discuses the lack of a Code of Conduct

July 26, 2015 – New Culture at city hall?

June 2012 Transit director retires

Salt with Pepper are the views, opinions and observations of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette


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11 comments to Some pretty hypocritical behaviour on the part of some council members – will a Code of Conduct make any difference?

  • Perry Bowker

    Having a pretty comfortable and secure position makes one happy to keep having a comfortable and secure position. Why would anyone voted for a change until there is a massive groundswell? For example, which of Toronto’s 40+ councillors wants to vote for fewer councillors, or higher taxes? Would any of Ontario’s politicians risk trying to impose a code of conduct on a lower tier (which is the only way any change could occur in Burlington).

  • Ken

    I would agree with all of the above. I have had dealings with the City where mere criticism has been grounds to silence and censure me even without a Code of Conduct.

    I think we can all agree that a Code of Conduct will become another excuse to focus on Process instead of Progress. I would suggest we ignore adopting a Code which only the benefactors of the Code will enforce and instead allow people’s judgement to carry the day.

    I would suggest having an Ethics Officer available to intercede. Let an unbiased person adjudicate between conflicting parties. Allow an unbiased person to rule on how and what should be disclosed. If people need rules let an unbiased person create and enforce, change and disclose.

  • Penny

    This is like the Pot calling the Kettle Black

  • Joseph Gaetan

    Having and adhering to a code of conduct should not be an option. People who offer resistance to adopting such an initiative may have something to hide. Having a code of conduct is a start point not an end point.

  • Tom Muir

    Stephen, Good analysis and explanation.

    In my view, this Council does not want a Code of Conduct. If they did we would have one.

    I’ve heard excuses like outright refusal, and voters can vote their approval or not on election day. So once every 4 years there is a pseudo calling to account for conduct.

    In my view, what this Council seems to want is more arbitrary power to do what they want, and to silence dissent.

    As the Gazette says, “they are talking about rules they want to see in place to control what happens. Councillor Craven wants to see something in the Procedural bylaw that permits the chair of a meeting to do something with a delegation that is upsetting the members of council.”

    What is the meaning of upset? Who decides? Obviously violence and personal physical threats cannot be allowed. That’s enough.

    And if members of Council talk about upset, then they need to look in the mirror. Maybe it has something to do with their actions that citizens object to, but find they are not being heard. Something like what is going on now regarding the OP and development.

    Remember, Craven is the one that wanted to reduce the citizen Committee delegation time from 10 minutes to 5. This is one of the very best ways to stifle citizen dissent and expression.

    Almost worse, this motion was approved at Committee, and only Meed Ward seemed concerned, and she alerted citizens to what was afoot.

    Thanks to this heads up, there were many delegations at the Council meeting with this motion on the agenda, and as a result, every Councilor except Craven voted No to this change – 6 to 1.

    So see this pursuit of new “rules” as just another tactic in the pursuit of arbitrary power, and silencing of citizen expression.

    The source fits the pattern.

  • Steve

    If this council wants to move in a direction that many citizens seem to disagree with they’re going to need to develop a thicker skin. If federal or provincial politicians where so easily offended they’d never be able to appear in public at all.

    Now there is no excuse for anyone to be rude but you can’t just start silencing people because they’re “upsetting” you. For better or worse you have decided to pursue public office and that comes with significant downsides like people disagreeing with you, sometimes forcefully. A code of conduct for delegators that is anything more than banning racist or hate speech, inappropriate language and name calling will be open to abuse and will end up being used by council to silence debate.

    It’s pretty clear at this point that Burlington Councillors have enjoyed relative anonymity and have gone about their business with little public push back. Now that they are making massive changes to Burlington they are for the first time getting raw unadulterated feedback and some of it might be rough to hear. Well then I would suggest to council that if it feels that their direction is correct they need to be prepared to defend that direction and not be so sensitive. Attacking your ideas is not the same thing as attacking you and they need to learn to make that distinction. If you don’t like your decisions and thought processes being held up for scrutiny than public office isn’t for your, simple as that.

  • Bernstein

    I often find myself on the other side of the argument from Mr. White. Not this time. I fully agree with his comment. He is absolutely right.

  • Bob Lynch

    Someone can’t handle being “eyeballed “ by a delegate. Wow.

  • Eve St Clair

    Electing Mike Wallace for Mayor , now that’s funny. He did nothing while on Council or as a MP he suddenly resurfaces.
    Content edited

  • Stephen White

    We need to decouple on this debate. There are two issues at play here. One involves conduct of existing Councillors. The second pertains to the conduct of persons delegating before Council, or the interactions of members of Council with Councillors and City officials. Let’s not conflate the two.

    On the issue of a Code of Conduct for Council: having previously in my career written two Codes of Conduct for different employers I can tell you with a high degree of confidence that unless it is reinforced with mandatory workforce training and education its value is negliblel. Mr. Wrixton is absolutely correct in his assertion that there is a need for further education. Rolling out a document with pretty words that isn’t supplemented with training, a set of frequently asked questions, and some practical examples depicting proper or inappropriate behaviour, is of limited value.

    Issues such as receiving gifts are fairly simple to handle. Either put a dollar limit on the amount that can be received (i.e. less than <$100 per year per individual or organization) or simply state a Councillor cannot receive anything. On the issue of a Councillor interceding in the jurisdiction the default position is to refer all matters to the attention of the Councillor for that Ward.

    On the issue of a Code of Conduct for members of the public, frankly, this is unenforceable. If the City Manager or other officials are threatened physically or verbally by members of the public CALL THE POLICE! Let them deal with it and file charges under the Criminal Code, Section 264, dealing with harassment. At Council meetings hire an off duty police officer to sit in the gallery to maintain order. The mere presence of a police officer should be sufficient to compel most reasonable people to behave responsibly.

    Those of us who have worked in large organizations that are highly regulated, and for which issues such as Code of Conduct, Confidentiality Agreements and Conflict of Interest are the norm are accustomed to dealing with this stuff. It is no big deal. You read the policy, you apply it in your work dealings, you follow the rules, and you don't put yourself in a compromising position. I'm continually at a loss to understand what is so difficult about this. Honestly…it isn't brain surgery.

    • Fred Crockett


      Well done.

      I encourage you to send your comments to the Mayor, the Councillors, the City Manager and the Assistant City Manger, and ask for their comments, and I also ask that you advise then that you will post those comments on the Burlington Gazette.

      I seem to recall an old adage about the cat and the pigeons….