Vancouver senior mocked by city staff in voicemail

A 77-year-old Vancouver woman says city staff members need a lesson in etiquette this Christmas season, after she received a rude, mocking voicemail response to a query about tree fungus.

Grace Cullen called the city's 311 hotline to complain about a fungus growing on the trees outside her house. She believes the fungus has spread to her own trees and driveway. A few days later, a staffer with the Park Board called back.

Cullen was out and the city's call went to voicemail. She said the staffer left a message saying she had stopped by to check the fungus, but the city wouldn't do much until the spring.

The staffer then said goodbye and hung up — or thought she did. This is what Cullen heard:

"Give me a break, lady. Don't you have anything to do? Can't you go and donate your time to somebody?" And then: "Why don't you go ring a bell at the Sally Ann or something?"

Cullen, who was born and raised in Vancouver, is an avid gardener and is angry her concerns were treated as such a joke.

"What was concerning me was, 'Is it a health hazard?" she told the CBC. "What is it doing to me and or any of my neighbours?

"When I heard [the voicemail], I just got furious. I don't often get mad but ... when I'm paying my taxes so that you can work...They treated it just as if it was a big joke."

Cullen called the city to complain and a few days later, she received another voicemail from someone called Marilyn who said she was calling to apologize, after being prompted to do so by her superintendent.

"I'm sorry ... it was an odd request and I found it odd, and so I was just talking to people about it," said Marilyn in the message, referring to what Cullen overheard as "banter."

"We're sort of in a jovial mood here getting close to Christmas, and just all winding down and relaxing a little, but I apologize. I didn't mean anything negative towards you."

Cullen doesn't accept the apology.

"Are these a bunch of children that get all hyped up? It's just banter? No, that's not banter. That was very sarcastic humour.

"To me it was not a heartfelt apology. It was just made because she had been told she'd better make it."

The same person called Cullen once again and left another voicemail, but Cullen says she has not heard anything since.

Cullen says she still wants the city to check if the mould is hazardous to anyone's health and find out more about it — but she also thinks the staff need to learn a lesson.

"I don't think it does any good for someone to get on the phone and apologize without facing the person and I don't think they learn anything by it.

"I think it should be made an example to the other employees that sat in the background laughing and I think the person who did this should have to apologize to my face in front of those employees, and let me have my say as to how I felt."

Cullen says she will be sending a formal letter of complaint to the city.

Malcolm Bromley, general manager at Vancouver's Park Board, told the CBC he's very disturbed by what happened.

"We're here to serve the public. First and foremost, our mission is to serve the public with high quality service. That includes treating the public with respect both directly and indirectly," said Bromley.

He said he has called Cullen to apologize on behalf of the Park Board and found her to be a "lovely person." Bromley pledged to have staff investigate the individuals involved and take appropriate action.

"There's no excuse for communicating anything disparaging about a resident or something that is not in the best interests of trying to serve the public."

Bromley also said the director of parks would be going over to Cullen's house to investigate her original concern over the tree fungus.

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