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'Staff and council have right to feel safe': mayor

RItsma stands by city's actions, calling suspension 'necessary'
Stratford CAO Joan Thompson and Mayor Martin Ritsma at the May 13, 2024 regular council meeting.

Anyone attending the Stratford city council meeting on Monday, May 13, who came there expecting fireworks following the city’s recent actions over suspending a pair of local residents from attending meetings or having contact with any of the city’s employees would have been somewhat disappointed.

Council did hear from one delegation on the matter, as Tim Forster – the husband of Barb Shaughnessy, one of the two who were suspended by the city following the February 26 regular council meeting – spoke alone to the meeting and read from a prepared statement where he questioned why the city acted the way it did.

In his statement, Forster said that the city conducted an internal investigation which it claims found harassment and threats of violence made to both city staff and members of the public. The statement went on to say that the city’s strategy was to paint all who spoke out against them with the same brush.

“To be clear, no threats of violence or harassment were in any complaints provided to those who delegated on Feb. 26,” Forster read. “If any threats of violence are made, the Respectful Workplace Policy directs the police be called - they weren’t.”

Mayor Martin Ritsma did stop Forster at one point, asking him to clarify what the point of his delegation was since it appeared on the council’s amended agenda as wanting to speak to the possibility of a public training session on the matter. Forster corrected him, saying he was looking for more of an explanation for the city’s response.

Speaking after the meeting, Ritsma emphasized the importance of keeping communications channels open while being compassionate and caring to all involved. He wouldn’t indicate the source of the alleged threats and wasn’t going to engage in any back and forth on the matter.

“If you want to delegate in front of our council in chambers, you know you’re not going to be confronted afterwards,” he said. “Staff and council should also have the understanding that they have the right to feel safe. I thought (the situation) was jeopardizing that.”

When he stated that a public space is a shared responsibility, Ritsma was asked if it’s a reasonable expectation that the public would be familiar with the Respectful Workplace Policy - or any other policies regarding attending a public meeting – he doubled down on his belief that anyone who shows up to participate is still going to be held to the same standards and that the policy makes the distinction between respectful and critical behaviour.

“You’re entitled to your thoughts, but you have to know there’s a fine line between your thoughts and the right to express them and how expressing those thoughts is going to affect someone receiving them,” he said. “I don’t want to get into the specifics of he said/she said with regards to this … I just feel what we’re doing and the steps we’re taking are necessary.”