Elliot Lake Council took another look at its two-prong approach to Council Integrity issues, put in place last month, at its regular meeting on Monday night.
The province changed the rules for handling conflict of interest and Integrity Commissioner complaints in Ontario municipalities effective March 1.
In anticipation of that change, Elliot Lake City Council accepted a recommendation last month from the City's Chief Administrative Officer, Dan Gagnon, to have most of the work done by E4M, a not-for-profit consulting firm in Sault Ste. Marie.
The company is staffed by former municipal staff and municipal consultants with their experience gained at various-sized municipalities. The 'heavy lifting' of Code of Conflict and Integrity Commissioner issues was to be handled by a law firm in Kingston, which charges a higher fee.
The idea was to go to E4M with most issues and the Kingston firm for more difficult issues or other issues E4M doesn't have the time or resources to handle.
But just a few days into the process, and after a number of intervening developments, City Councillors had another look at the policy at this week's meeting.
When the dust had settled, the conduct and conflict issues appeared to be on course to return to City Council for future debate. There was no motion on the table to move the Integrity Commissioner file along.
Several Councillors were concerned about confusion caused by the two-tier approach.
As well, Councillor Sandy Finamore said the city's $7 per complaint filing fee should be eliminated to remove any economic deterrent to those considering making a complaint.
Finamore observed, "There are enough barriers to this process. How long do they (E4M) take to reply and respond? How do we know how busy E4M is, so we can refer items to another firm if they're too busy?There's got to be an easier way."
Councillor Luc Cyr also worried about the possibility that the small filing fee could make the complaints process less accessible. Council voted unanimously in favour of Finamore's motion to eliminate the fee, but nothing else was decided.
Councillor Chris Patrie said he's been involved in filing a complaint of his own this month and has found the process "extremely difficult" to navigate.
"The glitch was with E4M and not with us," Petrie added
He went on to say, "I think we only need to go with one (firm). I don't want it to be the CAO and Clerk to have to adjust it."
Councillor Patrie concluded, "The issues I'll be having is with the process. At the end of the day City Staff will be blamed if anything goes wrong. If staff has to bring it back to us in a month, we may decide to go with a bigger firm."
Councillor Norman Mann agreed there must be just one City-appointed Integrity Commissioner adding, "I think we need to set a direction. I think we need to keep an eye on it. Pick a lane, stay in it."
Mr. Gagnon echoed, "Let's stick with E4M first. Roll it out."
He warned both City Councillors and the public, "we can't be meandering in our complaint wording. They (written complaints) need to be succinct and pointed. Then it's the Integrity Commissioner's business. It's only March and we've had a number of complaints. We'll know pretty soon how it's going to work out. Let's see how it goes."
Mayor Dan Marchisella added; "I think it would be good to keep it all under one roof."
Since the CIty continues to feel its way along with dealing with the provincially-driven changes, there was no motion to handle either the Conflict of Interest or the Integrity Commissioner complaints through E4M. There was no consensus on it, despite the fact that several councillors support the idea.
Summing up Mr. Gagnon said, "Are our expectations realistic? We don't know because it's a new process." It appears he'll have more to say on the subject at future City Council meetings.
You can download the twocomplaint forms being used in Elliot Lake by clicking here.