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Calgary council's revised code of conduct includes overhaul of gifts policy

A revised code of conduct for Calgary’s elected officials features an overhauled and more restrictive gifts policy that would require council members to disclose all presents, no matter the dollar value. 

If approved by council later this month, the proposed Ethical Conduct Policy will replace three existing policies that govern gifts and benefits, ethical conduct and election campaigns policy for councillors and the mayor that together were confusing and not comprehensive, according to a city report.  

Members of the priorities and finance committee quizzed ethics adviser Alice Woolley on Tuesday about the eight pages of new rules and an accompanying eight-page document that offers extensive commentary on the proposed policy.

Those questions included whether complimentary desserts or free hamburgers need to be divulged as gifts under a policy that would require council members to disclose all gifts received, no matter the value, and include a description or photograph of reported gifts.  

The proposed policy states council members must not accept a free event ticket, meal, memento, jewelry, money or other benefits connected directly or indirectly with the performance of their duties, unless permitted by a short list of exceptions.  

The existing gifts policy, introduced in 2013, states councillors and the mayor need to report gifts they receive worth more than $150 every six months.

Previous disclosure lists have included niceties such as iPads, gift baskets, booze and Flames tickets from various non-profit organizations, land developers, home builders and other groups.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters the revised rules surrounding gifts shift from an existing permissive system to a much more restrictive one.

“(Currently) you can accept anything you want as long as you disclose it if it’s over X dollars. The new policy is restrictive. You cannot accept gifts unless they fall on this list and you must disclose everything of any value,” he said. “It’s actually quite a different philosophy from the current process.”

Related

That list of what’s allowed, which includes things such as food, lodging and entertainment provided by other governments, mementoes of a function attended by a council member as part of his or her duties, and compensation for serving on external bodies, spurred questions from elected officials on Tuesday. 

“I don’t know if this happens to everyone else around the table but, I often don’t pay for the dessert when I go out for dinner. They just take it off the bill. Would I have to disclose every one of those?” Nenshi asked ethics adviser Woolley in council chambers.

“This seems inconsequential,” Woolley said. 

Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland added that sometimes businesses in his ward refuse to let him pay for food — a hamburger for example — and Woolley agreed that in that situation the meal should be reported, though the rules don’t make that explicit.  

“It’s not quite one-stop shopping, but it should be something that gives you a road map for where you have to look next,” Woolley said of the proposed new ethical conduct policy, designed to “prevent graft and corruption, and to ensure transparency in government.” 

The revised code of conduct also specifies that council members must communicate with the public, one another and city employees “respectfully, without abuse, bullying or intimidation.”

The accompanying document offering context specifically calls out such behaviour on social media and says council members shouldn’t use social media “as a platform to treat members of the public, one another, or City or Council employees disrespectfully.” 

aklingbeil@postmedia.com

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http://calgaryherald.com/news/local-news/revised-rules-overhaul-councils-existing-gifts-policy