Andrea DeMeer Cameras will be installed in town hall in an effort to check unruly visitors.

B.C. town moves to protect municipal staff from bullies

“We are a public body and we are here to serve, but we are not punching bags.”

Princeton town hall staff are reporting being harassed and bullied at work, according to the town’s CAO Cheryl Martens.

To address the problem four cameras will be installed in the municipal offices, and a new freedom of information and protection of privacy policy was adopted at Monday night’s meeting.

“We have an obligation under the Health and Safety Occupation Act to provide a harassment free environment for our employees, so we are putting measures in place to do that,” said Martens.

Additional concerns about staff safety were raised last month following a session of Princeton circuit court when RCMP arrested a man on the second story of the town building, she said.

That individual was attending court to answer charges of auto theft and was later charged with possessing a weapon and possessing drugs.

“We didn’t even find out about it until we read about it.”

Martens is currently pricing the cameras and said she hopes to have them in place in about a month.

The freedom of information policy – which distills the rules set by the province for how the public obtains information from a governing body – should stop people from pestering staff, she said.

“We recently had a gentleman come in and demand information…from the front counter staff and [he] got a little upset about it,” said Martens.

“Our staff gets accused of being liars and the front office people don’t have to deal with those things.”

The surveillance cameras “might deter some of that” as well as address the questions of “he said, she said,” said Martens.

“It’s been kind of tough. I’ve noticed a few things and I’ve only been here for six weeks. We are a public body and we are here to serve, but we are not punching bags.”

The RCMP has not been called to town hall to deal with unruly visitors, but it remains an option, she added.

“Yelling and belligerence is unacceptable. It’s really unacceptable. If somebody continues to do it I will ban them from the building…if I have to go that way.”

Under the freedom of information guidelines simple requests for council rules, bylaws and policy statements can still be sought verbally and provided at the front counter.

However for other documents and reports someone who wants information will need to fill out a standard form and make a formal request that will then be processed under provincial legislation.

According to Martens that primarily consists of establishing whether the information can indeed be made public, and then directing the request to the appropriate town manager.

A fee may also be charged if fulfilling the request takes more than three hours.

The comprehensive Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act sets out timeframes for response, and responsibilities of the governing body.

The provincial legislation has always applied to requests for information from the municipal government, she added.

“We are just making it a formal policy.”

According to Martens there is currently one freedom of information act request pending at town hall, attached to the economic development department.

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