Surrey city Councillor Jack Hundial says hiring an ethics commissioner at city hall is a “critical piece to a growing city.”
“It’s one of the pillars why I ran,” he told the Now-Leader. “The taxpayers certainly asked for and deserve transparency in government. This adds another layer of that transparency and certainly a layer of accountability.”
Council received a staff report Monday aimed at creating a City of Surrey Ethics Commissioner office, unanimously endorsing city staff recommendations to authorize the selection of an “independent expert” who will help develop a “Council Code of Conduct.”
Rob Costanzo, Surrey’s general manager of corporate services, said the intent is to “identify best practices for establishing an independent Surrey Ethics Commissioner’s office and enhanced lobbyist registry policy” to foster “fair and transparent governance.”
He noted in his report that there’s a trend in Canada to increasingly codification of ethical conduct as the civic government level.
“At present, there is no legislation in British Columbia mandating a specific type of ethical framework for municipalities.”
Elsewhere, as of March 1, 2019, municipalities in Ontario are legislated to adopt council codes of conduct and as of July 23, 2018 Albertan municipalities were to implement a councillor code of conduct.
Costanzo notes that in the absence of provincial legislation Surrey “has an opportunity to lead by example by establishing an ethical framework that creates the most value for the organization, rather than reacting to a future provincial mandate, as was the case in Ontario.”
It is commonplace, his report indicates, for an ethics commissioner to operate under a fixed term, be able to maintain confidential records and have an independent budget.
“Given the size of Surrey’s population and the number of city staff,” Costanzo writes, “it is suggested that a Surrey ethics commissioner be compensated by retainer as is done in most Canadian municipalities.
It’s “roughly estimated,” he adds, “that the cost may be upwards of $200,000 per year. This cost will be brought forward into the base 2020 budget.”