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City bans two, warns third for critical remarks

Mike Sullivan keeps pushing city hall for answers

The City of Stratford has issued a ban against two members of Get Concerned Stratford as a result of the Feb. 26 council meeting.

Why they were banned exactly comes as a bit of a mystery to Mike Sullivan.

In a letter from the city dated April 4, Sullivan and Barb Shaughnessy were given a three-month ban from attending council meetings, making contact with city staff, or going to any public buildings, and Jane Marie Mitchell was given a written warning from the city’s lawyer. So while Sullivan can’t stop in and check out a book, he can and is questioning what prompted this kind of reaction from city hall.

“We attended the Feb. 26 meeting and there were three things of interest to me: the results of the closed meeting investigation that I helped get launched, the budget, and a condo building that was applying to have its zoning changed so it could rent rooms out like an inn,” Sullivan said.

Prior to the meeting, Sullivan and the group encountered a number of roadblocks that beset them, including the fact that the council agenda was not made available to the public prior to the deadline for requesting permission to speak at the Monday night meeting, which was six days earlier. He indicated that they could have filled out a form to speak, but he was unaware of the change made in those rules as well, stating that the permission had to be sought at least one business day prior to the meeting, which meant the Friday.

Even with all that, Sullivan and his group were given permission to speak at the meeting and, as he says, “I didn’t pull any punches with my comments.”

While he questioned a number of elements that arose in the meeting, Sullivan says he never became disrespectful or derogatory towards anyone and neither did Shaughnessy or Mitchell.

Citing the city’s Respectful Workplace Policy, the punishments were handed down. No specifics were cited concerning the ban, and Sullivan said they have filed an appeal. The city's chief administrative officer, Joan Thomson, issued a statement to other CTV news saying that "a review took place and certain actions implements" following what she classified as a few recent instances of disrespectful behaviour in the council chambers.

One of the group’s other leaders, Sharon Collingwood, said they were shocked at the city’s attempt to silence their dissent.

“Mike has been relentlessly seeking the truth behind the corruption of the past, on our behalf,” she said in a press release. “I was at that council meeting, and none of the speakers targeted were in any way derogatory or inappropriate. They were critical, yes, but in Canada we have the right to be critical of our civic leaders. Residents were hopeful that democracy and transparency would be back with the election of a new council, but apparently the new council is continuing the ways of the old.”

When asked if the Respectful Workplace Policy had ever been brought up or noted in any way during any of his other trips to speak with council, Sullivan said it hadn’t been.

“However, after the meeting, someone issued orders to have it read out before every meeting going forward,” he said. “Police have also been asked to attend the meetings.”

Sullivan said he knew the city wasn’t happy with his dredging up their past mistakes and calling for answers, but the ban did catch him by surprise.

“I’m not surprised they’re looking for ways to keep people from speaking out like this,” he said.