If It’s on Town of Cobourg Property – Acceptable Behaviour is Required

In City Hall

By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
If it’s town property, Cobourg’s Chief Administrative Officer Tracey Vaughan explained at last week’s meeting of Cobourg council’s Strategic Priorities and Policy standing committee, unacceptable behaviour may, in the future, result in an actual ban.

Following the meeting, a policy codifying this requirement for acceptable behaviour – the Town of Cobourg Public Conduct Policy – will come before council’s regular meeting on Feb. 28.

Vaughan said this kind of policy is becoming quite commonplace in municipal government. It balances a striving for excellence in customer service with the legal obligation to protect staff, councillors and other members of the public who may be on municipal premises – where, as the owner, the town has the right to set out standards of conduct.

This requires anyone who has business with the town to be respectful and not engage in threatening or abusive behaviour, she said.

Should someone persist in such behaviour, the policy sets out steps that can be taken in the form of five levels of response. Each successively stringent level (which can be resorted to if the behaviour persists) prescribes the length of time that individual is banned from municipal property, as well as which staff member is empowered to issue the prohibition and how long the prohibition lasts – from seven days at Level 1 to a year at Level 5.

Additional measures that may be taken at any level of response may include limiting the number of complaints, inquiries or requests that can be submitted, as well as limiting the number of responses town staff will provide with respect to further complaints or inquiries. There is also the possibility of closing any active complaints, inquiries or requests for service related to a specific matter.

Each decision to restrict is reviewed by a panel of internal senior-management staff to ensure whether it was appropriate. In cases where the behaviour occurred at a public meeting, Municipal Clerk Brent Larmer, the mayor may also be added to the panel.

There is also opportunity for an appeals process and review, as well as provision for a hearings officer, Larmer added.

The policy before the committee defined “unacceptable behaviour” as “behaviour that will not be tolerated, including but not limited to behaviour that can be damaging physically or mentally, is illegal, or would not be welcomed in a standard place of business.”

Vaughan noted that the town has always had the ability to restrict such people under the Trespass To Property Act, an established provincial offence. This policy supports that right more formally, and comes into effect when passed by council.

Mayor Lucas Cleveland wondered about protections to elected officials as they go about their business outside of town-owned premises.

“We do not have the authority to dictate behaviour outside of our municipal buildings,” Vaughan said.

“That is a challenge with municipal officers, and some of those gray areas certainly do exist.”

She referred to right-to-disconnect legislation as another of those gray areas. Presumably, if a councillor is out to dinner with his or her family and is approached by a member of the public, the councillor could respectfully refer to business hours and issue an invitation to call his or her office another time.

“But it wouldn’t be enforceable the same way it is with provincial policies,” she added.

Councillor Randy Barber shared his experiences as a councillor in Markham, where a disgruntled constituent smashed his mailbox and screen door and left junk inside to protest the way the town cleaned up after winter.

Councillor Miriam Mutton noted that the policy does not apply to certain town-related services, such as the utilities company and the Cobourg Public Library.

Committee Chair Nicole Beatty noted that the library has its own policy framework they are responsible for implementing.

“They could definitely adapt from this, but the town wouldn’t be managing their policies,” Beatty said.

Vaughan pointed out that the same applies to the utilities company.

The committee voted to approve the new policy “to ensure a consistent approach to respond to unacceptable behaviour on town properties.”

Cecilia Nasmith
Author: Cecilia Nasmith

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