The Public Conduct and Civil Discourse Draft Policy was received for information during the Feb. 9 Committee of the Whole meeting.
The Public Conduct and Civil Discourse Draft Policy addresses harassing and violent behaviour by having a policy in place for the city to work with the victim, investigate the complaint, and put a remedy in place.
“The purpose of the policy is to address unreasonable behaviour by members of the public in dealing with council and staff,” said the City of Chestermere’s Legal Counsel, Richard Jones.
“As we’ve seen through the years, and during COVID-19, the way that some members of the public have engaged with elected officials and government staff,” he said.
The Public Conduct and Civil Discourse Draft Policy has been designed to complement the city’s existing policies, bylaws, and procedures, with a goal of creating a supportive workplace that protects staffers and council from unreasonable behaviour and civil discourse.
The Public Conduct and Civil Discourse Draft Policy also includes city vehicles, and city staffers working remotely during COVID-19.
“They could not have a member of the public approach their home and communicate with them or berate them for the work they are doing for the city,” Jones said.
Under the Public Conduct and Civil Discourse Draft Policy, unreasonable behaviour includes but is not limited to the use of threatening, abusive, offensive, insulting, or profane language in any form of communication, workplace violence, abuse of the emotional, mental, or physical well-being of council or staff, abuse of city resources, harassment, obsessive, persisting or repetitive behaviour or actions, vexatious communications, complaints, and requests or inquires.
“The unreasonable behaviour is not a workplace conflict in itself, work-related stress, difficult conditions of
employment, day to day management of operations, or the normal discipline of employees, it’s something beyond that,” Jones said.
Unreasonable behaviour could also include submitting repeated communications for the same thing, changing the basis of a complaint, introducing new information after staff have addressed the complaint, attempting to undermine council or staff, loitering with the purpose to intimidate a person, threatening employment or the reputation and the private life of council and staff.
If a staff member believes that they have been subject to unreasonable behaviour they are to consult with their department director, provide particulars of the interaction, history of the person they are interacting with, and efforts that they have taken to resolve the issue.
The department director will then review the information and determine whether the policy is applicable.
If the Public Conduct and Civil Discourse Draft Policy is applicable, the department director can request further information and investigate the incident.
If the department director makes the determination that a person has engaged in unreasonable behaviour, they are to work with the staff to determine if there is an appropriate remedy.
The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) can also attempt to resolve the incident.
If an individual has engaged in conduct that doesn’t reach unreasonable behaviour under the Public Conduct and Civil Discourse Draft Policy, the CAO has the ability to issue a warning letter.
“We want to make sure there’s flexibility in this,” Jones said.
“You’re putting in place a remedy to protect that staff member or council member that is tailored to deal with the circumstances of a situation. You look at the nature of the behaviour, the likelihood of it being repeated or continued, and the impact on city staff,” he said.
Possible remedies could be to limit an individual’s contact with council or staff, prohibit in-person attendance or provide a limited period, require supervision of face-to-face interactions, limit the method of communication to one method, and limit a person’s ability to use programs and services.
“Civility is getting lost; you can jump on social media and do so much damage. I feel my heart racing while we’re going through this, because all of us, the things that we’ve experienced, some members of our staff, just not evidence-based, not true, and really damaging,” said City Councillor Yvette Kind.
“This is something really important, and more institutions need to reinforce this. I thought it was really bizarre when I first saw it, but I really see the importance of it,” she said.
“What a sad state it is when we even have to have a policy like this. If people don’t know what’s acceptable and what’s not it’s a free-for-all, and unfortunately, it’s not assumed that everyone will be nice,” said City Councillor Michelle Young.
Adding, “I don’t think it stops dialogue with residents, but it does put in some restrictions that we’re more than happy to have a conversation with you and to help you with your problem but let’s keep it civil.”