Integrity Commissioner told Essex Council 2023 was a ‘very quiet year’

2023 was a very quiet year for the Town of Essex, Bruce Elman, Integrity Commissioner, reported to Essex Council during a special meeting on Monday, April 15, when he presented the Integrity Commissioner Annual Report for 2023.

“The bottom line, this has been a very good year, because there has been very little business,” Elman told Council. “I am about the only person who can say ‘it has been a good year’ when there has been less business.”

The Provincial role for all Integrity Commissioners has four primary functions, to education, provide advice for Council and individual Council members, investigate complaints, and complaint adjudication and resolution.

An Integrity Commissioner, he added, can also have a role in the development of a policy for the town when it impinges upon issues of ethics and integrity, Elman said. He added the Town of Essex’s Code of Conduct is excellent, a model for municipalities of a similar size as it is clear, concise, and user-friendly.

In 2023, Elman shared there were no complaints filed in regards to Essex Council or its committees, and there were also very few inquiries.

“That is to your credit, and to the credit of those people who are members of boards and committees that they have conducted themselves – and you have conducted yourselves – in a manner that is in consort with the Code of Conduct. I think that is really good news.”

Under the advice function in his role, Elman said he responds to requests for advice.

There were four requests for formal Letters of Advice and a handful of instances of Brief Advice/Brief Service. “This should be seen as a very positive development,” he concluded in the report.

Elman issued four Formal Letters of Advice, which occurs when a member requests a formal letter confirming the advice from the Integrity Commissioner. Of these, two were issued to members of Council and two were issued to members of local boards or committees. All of the letters concerned issues involving Conflicts of Pecuniary Interests, it notes in the Report to Council.

It is assumed his advice was followed as he received no complaints.

He wrote in his Report to Council that at least this number of individuals sought out this avenue. “It is always preferable to provide advice rather than investigate complaints.”

In the Report, Elman noted in 2023 there were three instances of Brief Advice, occasions where advice could be provided immediately or in a very short period of time, and where no file needed to be opened.

In addition, there were two instances of “Brief Service” provided to members of Council, members of committees, and senior staff, which constitutes instances where an individual had contacted the Integrity Commissioner, but no formal or informal complaint had been initiated and no file had been opened.

Missing from the Code of Conduct, he said, there is not a specific provision that notes if seeking the advice from the Integrity Commissioner, and if the advice is followed, one is immune from a complaint. Windsor has such a provision.

“I think it is an important provision, because it incentivizes members of Council and members of boards and committees to come to the Integrity Commissioner before you have a problem,” he said, which he prefers.

There is a section that he could work with in the Town of Essex’s Code of Conduct to achieve that, but he did recommend making the Code more explicit on that. Deputy Mayor Rob Shepley asked what would happen if someone did not follow advice. Elman said in that instance, the matter would go through the investigation and adjudication process. If his advice was not followed, it would not serve well for what the investigation would reveal.

Following the 2022 Municipal Election, Elman held a training and education session with the then newly elected members of Council. In other communities, the Integrity Commissioner then goes to committee and board meetings to present a modified training session.

He urged Council to think about, after the 2026 Municipal Election, to provide a robust educational program, including Council and members of board and committees, who are also subject to the Code of Conduct.

In January of 2023, the previous Term of Essex Council retained Elman to serve as the Integrity Commissioner for a period of one year, from January 1, 2023 to December 31, 2023. The contract was later extended to December 31, 2025.

Essex Council received the report.

Sylene Argent, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Essex Free Press