Councils cry foul over 'vexatious' emails

·2 min read

Councillors are fed up with inflammatory emails and they’re not going to take it anymore.

A motion by Oro-Medonte Coun. Cathy Keane to create a code of conduct for members of the public that would allow staff to refuse to respond to “disrespectful, intimidating, vexatious and/or defamatory actions or comments” passed at a council meeting last month.

Mayor Harry Hughes said there is a small group of “aggressive offenders” who target councillors’ email boxes with annoyance requests.

“This local group will send out misinformation and bombard officials’ (mailboxes) and overload the system,” said Hughes. “We’ve been turning a blind eye to it, but, with COVID-19, we’re not in normal times now.”

With staff working from home or redeployed to other departments, the additional workload is onerous, he said.

Two members of the public spoke at a council meeting Jan. 13 indicating their concern about the new code. Liz Kirk said she wondered how the motion was passed without input from township residents.

“As a resident of Oro-Medonte, I feel my opinions are important and the taxpayers need a voice,” she said.

Resident Dave McNabb said he feels the new recommendations go too far.

“The structure of the code, with its sanctions, appears to overreach, giving the perception of council compelling the behaviour of the public,” he said.

Yet the mayor of Oro-Medonte isn’t the only municipal official complaining about rude residents.

Pamela Fettes, clerk and director of legislative services for the Township of Clearview, said one local individual has requested 790 items through the freedom-of-information process since 2011.

Fettes said one request demanded proof of each staff member’s Law Society of Ontario designation.

“The staff directory is published online and they wanted everyone’s — from those in public works to the CAO’s — designation,” Fettes said. “Under the current legislation, the municipality is required to respond to all and any requests for information, including this one.”

If a municipality doesn’t respond, it is deemed a refusal when appealed and the municipality must eventually honour the request, she said.

The legislation has not been updated for more than 30 years and can be a frustrating experience for both requesters and administrators, she added: “When it was written, it talked about saving files to floppy disks.”

Fettes is a member of the Time for Change working group, which includes staff from the County of Simcoe, Town of Wasaga Beach and Township of Georgina. It is currently reviewing the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in an effort to modernize the legislation.

Cheryl Browne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance