Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne is asking her constituents to cool it in council chambers.
Heated exchanges during recent public meetings prompted Osborne to kick off Sept. 13’s regular council meeting by announcing she will no longer tolerate harsh words being thrown in council or staff’s direction.
“Members of the public may disagree with the opinions or perspectives that they hear expressed in the room, but a safe and respectful environment must be maintained in the council chamber in order to protect the integrity of the decision making process,” she said.
“Disruptive and disrespectful behaviours from anybody in attendance, such as heckling or noise making or arguing or raised voices or making personal attacks, cannot and will not be tolerated at any time in this room.”
She added civil and calm discourse must be in effect within council chambers before, during and after meetings as well as during recesses.
“As Mayor and Chair of the council meeting, it is primarily my responsibility to make sure that this decorum and civility is maintained and I will take the necessary steps or actions that are required to do this,” she said. “I look to my fellow members of council to assist me.”
During the meeting’s open question period, the Westerly News asked Osborne what motivated this announcement.
“We’ve observed a few behaviours in the past that I don’t think are acceptable,” she responded. “I felt it was a necessary and wise move to make clear my expectations for behaviour in the council chambers so that everybody understands.”
She said councillors cannot communicate effectively if they fear verbal retaliation from their audience.
“It’s very important that there’s an environment in the council chamber where people feel safe to express their opinion…If you feel intimidated or in any way uncomfortable about expressing that opinion, it detracts from the decision making process,” she said.
“Preserving the integrity of the decision making process is absolutely utmost and there’s really no reason to step outside of the normal societal expectations of civil behaviour and good decorum.”
She said she would ensure civility by making the rules and expectations clear for audience members and “taking a more proactive role in shutting down behaviours that don’t meet those expectations.”
Tofino’s Council Procedure Bylaw, adopted in 2008, lays out the rules councillors and members of the public must follow during council meetings and includes a prohibition on raised voices and offensive words.
“No person shall make personal attacks against members of Council or others. Such attacks, including allegations of conflicts of interest, will not be tolerated,” the bylaw states,
“Members of the public who constitute the audience in the Council Chambers during a Council meeting may not address Council without permission of the Mayor; shall maintain order and quiet; and shall not interrupt any speech or action of the Council. The Mayor may direct that a constable remove any person in the audience who creates any disturbance during a meeting.”