When councillors discussed recommendations intended to strengthen the Town’s code of conduct, as well as confidentiality, privacy and hiring policies, the frustration of Coun. Gary Burroughs was evident.
A workshop was held last week to give councillors a full hour to go through 15 recommendations included in the Inside Job, the ombudsman’s report on the Region’s CAO recruitment process, which was described as “unreasonable, unjust, and wrong.”
A lengthy investigation determined candidate Carmen D’Angelo, who was eventually handed the job, was given confidential information to help him succeed in his quest to become CAO. Some regional councillors and staff members were implicated in sharing information with D’Angelo during the hiring process.
In December, Niagara-on-the-Lake councillors adopted 15 recommendations from the ombudsman’s report and requested that staff initiate implementation and report back as soon as possible. The staff report presented to councillors last week indicated the Town already has some policies and practices in place, but staff had proposals to ensure they are strengthened, supplemented and supported by training.
Burroughs, who was on regional council when the hiring of D’Angelo took place, doesn’t think they go far enough. “I would have said at the time that everything was fine at the Region. I wouldn’t have thought changes were necessary in the areas of confidentiality and hiring, but I didn’t know. We couldn’t know. I’m afraid we’re not taking this seriously enough.”
He says his concerns aren’t related to any individuals or departments at the Town.
“I have concern we’re not covering what the ombudsman said.”
Councillors had been asked the week before, at the committee-of-the-whole-meeting, to review the report and recommendations, and send their comments to the Town’s human resources generalist, Sarah Stevens.
At the workshop last Monday, Stevens went through each of the Inside Job recommendations, and explained what could be added or changed in Town policies and procedures to satisfy the recommendations in the ombudsman’s report.
The first recommendation calls for an employee code of conduct that provides for the protection of confidential information. The Town currently has a code of conduct for council, and a separate one for staff, although it’s a little weak, Stevens told councillors. There is one drafted for staff that is “more robust and mirrors that of council,” she added.
As suggested in the ombudsman’s report, the Town’s employment agreements and contracts currently address confidentiality, the staff report says.
Burroughs’ concern is what he sees as a lack of protection of confidential information included in the staff code of conduct, one of the main reasons for the recommendations
He was assured by interim CAO Sheldon Randall that employee contracts, as well as a number of other policies, address confidentiality.
Burroughs says he doesn’t believe there is enough emphasis on the importance of confidentiality. His concern is that it’s not enough to have policies, it’s also important to ensure they’re being followed.
“What are we doing to enforce confidentiality? That’s the issue before us,” he asked at the workshop. “It’s saying what are we doing, are we checking that someone is following the guidelines?”
That applies to all of the 15 recommendations, he says.
When he was a regional councillor, he says, “we assumed everybody was following the rules, and obviously they weren’t.”
He isn’t concerned about penalties, he says — he wants to ensure everyone is following the rules.
In response, Randall asked if he should be checking phone calls, checking emails daily. “We take our staff at face value, that they’re going to follow the rules in place,” and if a breech does occur, he added, action would be taken, possibly even termination.
“My one comment is that’s exactly what we would have been told at the Region,” Burroughs replied.
Having dealt with confidentiality issues over his 30-year legal career, Coun. Stuart McCormack said, “enforcement only takes place after the fact. Educate people about their obligations, and institute a more robust form of training — education and reminders are the only thing that gets compliance.”
The staff report said confidentiality agreements specifically regarding hiring “can be created and used as part of our practice.”
The recommendations also included ensuring terms of reference for hiring list any staff who would have access to confidential information.
While there is a draft report coming forward for the hiring of a new CAO, said Stevens, there isn’t one for staff. Coun. Clare Cameron suggested a list of staff and officials permitted access to information should be included in the terms of reference for hiring.
Other recommendations addressed the need for a bylaw setting the parameters of the relationship between council and the CAO, including the role of council with respect to amending the CAO’s contract and salary; the proper use and storage of electronic communication, including corporate emails; that a hiring policy be created to include examples of unacceptable behaviour during a hiring process; and that additional training be arranged to address confidentially and privacy policies.
Regional Coun. Gary Zalepa says the Region is still going through a similar process, accepting the recommendations from the Inside Job report, and having staff report how they match with policies at the Region, including a bylaw with respect to the hiring of a CAO.
Councillors have had input, and some of those comments and requests for changes will go back to staff and be presented to council for approval, he said. “We’ve asked staff to come back at a further date with suggestions about adding some guidance to the process.”
It’s council’s responsibility, as custodians, to ensure staff are following the policies, and to be asking the right questions, including “have we followed our policies,” Zalepa said.
Regarding hiring of the CAO, he said, the regional policy is “a little quiet” about who would be able to attend meetings of the hiring committee — he feels that needs to be clarified and enshrined in the policy.
At the Town council meeting last week, motions were made and approved to have the draft code of conduct for staff be sent to council for information once it’s approved by staff; that new confidentiality agreements be instituted as an additional level of sign-off during hiring; that a new hiring policy be instituted for all recruitments, with a special section for the hiring of a CAO and that council has the authority to approve them; and that an update will come back to council on a retention policy for records, including electronic format.