On the April 15 council agenda is item 8.5 – Policy A.6.1 Professional Conduct, a proposed set of rules for members of the public at or in town facilities.
I have no problem with rules for members of the public at Town facilities. Like no skateboards indoors or where a danger or nuisance to others. Like no running on the pool deck. Like no yelling in town hall. Good common sense rules like these are necessary for order and for the protection of the public.
But the proposed “Professional Conduct Policy” goes way beyond. Some or even much of the professional conduct policy is rules made up solely for the improper purpose of stopping criticism of council members, committee members and staff, and for chilling participation of members of the public.
The proper parts of the policy can stay, but the improper parts need to go.
An example of what has to go is the rule that you can’t use abusive or demeaning language at any town facility (rule 2.9).
Consider what would happen if a resident runs in the fall municipal election and attends an all-candidates meeting at a town-owned facility, (say the Wiarton arena), and says:
“In 2010 candidate John Close promised a 15 per cent property tax reduction. Instead of a reduction Mayor John Close delivered a twenty per cent increase in taxes. Then the Mayor falsely claimed that he had delivered zero increases in each of his council’s four budgets. And then when residents pointed out that “zero increases” was a lie, the Mayor admitted that the increase was actually 20 per cent, but then the Mayor wrongly tried to shift the blame for the twenty per cent increase in taxes onto MPAC, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation.”
With the proposed policy in place, which prohibits demeaning language, and prohibits anything that the Administrator or anyone designated by the Administrator to act in her place is willing to say is demeaning language, and in fact prohibits anything that the Administrator (or appointee) thinks should be prohibited, Ms. “X” will be in immediate trouble.
For saying the statement above, Ms. “X” will be interrupted, and then staff will call the police and have Ms. “X” removed from the facility and banned from that facility for as long as the Administrator or mayor or anyone appointed as enforcers by the Administrator and Mayor, see fit. (See rules 5.3 and 5.4).
According to the policy Ms. “X” would not even get a warning as long as the offense was considered (by the Administrator or by the Mayor or their “appointed” enforcers) as relatively serious.
And to make sure Ms. “X” never comes back the administrator can use taxpayers’ money to get some sharp-suited Waterloo lawyers to: 1) apply fines to Ms. “X”; 2) lay charges against Ms. “X”; and 3) prosecute Ms. “X”. (See rule 5.6).
For criticizing the current Mayor on his false promises and bad record, Ms. “X” could be put through hell, and could be financially crippled. And all this could be carried out by any staff member “appointed” by the Mayor or the Administrator as an enforcer. And all of this could happen without council even becoming aware of it, or approving it.
Or consider what would happen if someone, let’s call him Mr. “Y”, looks at a draft town policy that he sees as contradicting itself, and so he comes to council, asks to speak, is granted permission, says “This policy is contradictory”, and displays a small placard that says “you can’t suck and blow at the same time”.
Exactly the same thing could happen to Mr “Y” as could happen to Ms. “X”. Because the Administrator will jump up and say Mr. “Y” has breached rule 4.1 (display of a statement that the administrator finds to have sexual connotations), or that Mr. “Y” has breached the general rule against saying something that the Administrator (or anyone appointed by the Administrator to act in her place) thinks Mr. “Y” shouldn’t be allowed to say.
And as with Ms. “X”, extreme harm could be could be unfairly inflicted on Mr. “Y” without council knowledge or approval.
What makes the (part of) the policy so objectionable is the hypocrisy on the part of the apparent authors of the policy, namely the mayor and Administrator Farrow-Lawrence.
On May 24, 2011 the mayor issued a press release (council did not see it until after it was released) and also talked to the press, falsely accusing contributors to a blog called bruceonthebruce, of: committing “criminal” acts; being a “plague”; being a “blight on the community”; and being “likely to commit acts of physical violence against women” if not immediately apprehended and brought to justice.
To me that sounds like demeaning and derogatory language. To me that sounds like a breach of the rules now being pushed by the Administrator and apparently by the Mayor. It seems grossly hypocritical to me. But then he’s the Mayor, so the rules don’t apply to him. Right?
And Administrator Farrow-Lawrence recently swore, under oath, that:
“As administrator of the Town, I have seen a pattern of harassing, threatening, and untoward behaviour by Mr. Gammie towards the Town’s staff. Mr. Gammie has personally attacked , harassed and threatened Town staff through his personal interactions with them, ….”
With that, Farrow-Lawrence swore that she saw personal interactions between me and staff where I “personally attacked, harassed, and threatened” such staff.
Farrow Lawrence didn’t start her job until January 28, 2013, well after I was banned.
I was banned from town hall on November 20, 2012, learning about it on November 23rd from staff. After November 23rd I had no contact at all with any staff other than Farrow-Lawrence, except to check in to the May 11, 2013 public meeting at the arena regarding septic inspections, a harmless, fleeting interaction between me and a staffer, an interaction that Farrow-Lawrence did not observe.
So there is absolutely no way Farrow-Lawrence could have seen personal interactions between me and staff at all, let alone “personal interactions where I personally attacked, harassed, and threatened staff”.
Her sworn statement was an outright lie. It’s a lie that she physically saw anything, and it’s a lie that I attacked or harassed or threatened staff, and it’s a lie that there was any bad behaviour, and it’s a lie that there was a pattern of bad behaviour. But her words are also demeaning, derogatory, and disrespectful, and thus constitute a grievous breach of the very rule she wishes to impose on the residents of the Town of South Bruce Peninsula.
“Hypocritical” and “outrageous” don’t even begin to adequately describe her actions.
Farrow-Lawrence claims that the Professional Conduct Policy is made in order for the Town to comply with a section of the Ontario Health and Safety Act. That’s rubbish. The Act does not require any such thing.
Council should carefully extract what little good there is in Farrow-Lawrence’s draft policy, and send the rest to the garbage bin.