News

Norfolk County 2018 budget talks begin Wednesday

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer

Norfolk County

Norfolk County

SIMCOE  - 

Norfolk council has put the issue off since 2016, but it looks like this is the year the county gets an “integrity commissioner.”

Staff suggested council hire an integrity commissioner in early 2016. The independent, third-party expert on municipal law would be called on as needed to investigate and pronounce judgement on a wide range of issues related to Norfolk council’s code of conduct.

Council was lukewarm to the suggestion then but will have to deal with it this week at its 2018 levy-supported budget deliberations.

“Due to changes to the Municipal Act, we are required to have an integrity commissioner in place by March, 2019,” a report under New Budget Initiatives says.

“We would like to have the award made in spring, 2018. The integrity commissioner would require approximately $20,000 in funding to run for the remainder of the year.”

The budget document predicts an integrity commissioner will cost Norfolk about $30,000 a year.

Clerk Andy Grozelle broached the subject of an integrity commissioner in a report in February, 2016. Grozelle noted that council had dealt with minor complaints about council members in-house and without repercussions to anyone.

Grozelle said an integrity commissioner in the wings would be advisable in case an elected official steps seriously across the line.

“A greater investment could assist if there ever is a complaint that is of a very serious nature or a complaint from staff,” Grozelle said in the report.

“This greater investment would also be required before council could entertain the strictest penalty against a council member, which is suspension of pay for up to 90 days.”

A follow-up report 18 months ago emphasized that staff complaints against council members are only effective if managed on a third-party basis.

Norfolk staff members are sensitive about how their council overlords interact with them.

Norfolk council’s code of conduct says “Council members shall direct any criticisms of staff through the county manager and refrain from criticizing staff in public, at any council or committee meeting, whether in open or closed session, or to the media.”

Other areas where an integrity commissioner might step in include breaches of confidential information, the acceptance of gifts or other considerations, conflicts-of-interest, the use of county resources for private or electoral purposes, behaviour at council meetings, behaviour in the community, and human rights violations.

Norfolk council has set aside three days this week to deliberate its 2018 consolidated budget. Because of the budget session, council will not hold its regularly scheduled meeting this Tuesday.

The budget session kicks off Wednesday at 9 a.m. with greetings from Mayor Charlie Luke and deputations from the public. Luke will then offer a commentary on the deliberations ahead, as will Norfolk CAO David Cribbs.

Norfolk treasury staff will deliver a detailed overview of the budget document, which is about 500 pages long. Departmental budgets will follow. Departments on deck Wednesday include employee and corporate services, financial services, health and social services, and the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.

Day 2 begins at 9 a.m. Thursday and is expected to last late into the afternoon.

The budget schedule optimistically suggests that deliberations could be wrapped up late Thursday. Friday morning has been set aside in case more discussion is needed.

The budget session will be held in the council chamber at Governor Simcoe Square. The public is welcome to attend.

MSonnenberg@postmedia.com