Local governments hire integrity commissioner
By Chad Ingram
Published Dec. 18, 2018
Haliburton County, and its lower-tier townships, have jointly attained the services of an integrity commissioner, county councillors confirming that appointment during their Dec. 12 meeting.
As per provincial legislation, all municipalities in Ontario must have an integrity commissioner in place by March 1, 2019. The responsibility of those individuals is to investigate any allegations of misconduct or violation of conflict of interest laws by councillors or members of local boards. Such complaints may come from other members of council, or from the public.
In the fall, the county and its lower-tier councils agreed to put out an ad for a joint integrity commissioner for the five municipalities and at last week’s meeting, councillors voted to hire lawyer Harold G. Elston to the position.
“The integrity commissioner does not just do investigations,” said Haliburton County chief administrative officer Mike Rutter. “They also provide advice to members of council at all levels for anything to do with conflict of interest, pecuniary interest, so their role is larger than just investigations.”
According to a staff report, Elston has practised law for more than 30 years, and has experience with lower- and upper-tier municipalities, councils and boards, as well as the federal government, as well as experience being an integrity commissioner for other small municipalities. He currently provides integrity commissioner services to 17 municipalities. “We felt he certainly would understand our area,” Rutter said, explaining four candidates were interviewed for the position. “This is an unfolding business, it’s new for most, and so we wanted to make sure they had a clear understanding of municipal law.”
He said they also wanted to find someone who would understand the municipality. “It’s very difficult to really quantify this, but we wanted to find someone who understood how we do things here,” Rutter said.
“Lovely to see a collaborative, regional approach to this,” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin. “We continue to work in an evolving, more and more complicated landscape every day, to have a resource like this so members of council and/or staff ... can reach out to have a conversation to guide us in this, is a huge asset.”
Elton’s fee is $250 per hour when he is used, plus taxes and 50 cents per kilometre for mileage.
“I understand the purpose of an integrity commissioner and their role, but I’m still a little unclear on the public side of the process ...” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. “So, if one of us wanted to call the integrity commissioner to get clarification on something, or inquire about the conduct of a colleague, or whatever the question may be, that’s $250 an hour, plus HST and 50 cents ... so it’s going to show up somewhere. So, does an inquiry to an integrity commissioner become public?”
“It’s a little uncharted territory for all of us,” Rutter said. “The treasurer and I had a conversation yesterday about how we monitor usage .... There is some confidentiality that is part of this process so we want to make sure that is there, so that if someone does call, it won’t be, you know, Councillor Moffatt is calling about Councillor Devolin, and so forth.”
“In terms of the investigation, if there is a formal investigation and report, it really is up to the integrity commissioner how much of that is public .... His indication to us is that he would respect your privacy as much as he possibly could,” Rutter said.
“I think that’s great, I think it’s important to find what I assume will be a very fine line of balance between the public accountability that we all hold, and the privacy of what could, in some cases, amount to sort of internal disputes,” said Moffatt.