The County of Haliburton has a new integrity commissioner to enforce codes of conduct and help council and local board members navigate ethics.
The county approved a draft agreement to make Harold Elston its commissioner Feb. 27. Elston will also be shared with the county’s lower-tier municipalities.
Elston said he has been practising municipal law for 31 years, including as an integrity commissioner in other municipalities, and looks forward to the work.
“I have seen many issues from all different sorts of angles and perspectives, so I think it helps me understand where people are coming from,” he said.
The province made the integrity commissioner role mandatory as of March 1. The role was expanded to include public education and investigations into the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. He is also to investigate alleged breaches of the new codes of conduct passed by area municipal councils. Any person, including council members and the public, can bring a code of conduct complaint forward.
Elston said people considering this should review the code of conduct and ensure their issues fall within it and the commissioner’s jurisdiction. An optional informal resolution should also be explored, Elston said.
“Sometimes, the informal route is best … just to approach them directly and sometimes, people don’t even realize they’ve offended somebody or they’ve caused some concern,” Elston said. “Before launching a formal complaint, make sure that it’s something you can’t just resolve yourself.”
But if someone chooses to proceed with a formal complaint, Elston said to write it and be as detailed as possible. “They need to outline the dates, the times, the place,” Elston said.
“Be prepared for me to vet the complaint, show it to the responding member of council and then be prepared to spend some time talking with me and sort of working through it. They should understand that it is a process and it is my job to make sure it’s fair.”
However, Elston said in his experience, serious complaints requiring full investigations are rare. Elston said his duty to provide advice upon request to councillors about ethics and conflicts of interest will help prevent those complaints.
“We can talk about it and I can provide them a written opinion,” he said. “The result will be there are fewer complaints because councillors have a chance to talk it out with somebody beforehand.”
The county has allotted $25,000 for Elston’s services within its 2019 budget.
“I was very honoured to be appointed as the integrity commissioner. I’m just looking forward to working with the people of Haliburton,” Elston said.