Special Report: Council Conduct

Silence is Acceptance for Colleagues of Bullying Councillors

It is time for Council to decide that the bullying and abuse will no longer be tolerated.

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 14, 2020

If you don't regularly watch Council or Committee meetings, you may not appreciate just how deeply toxic, offensive and abusive certain Council members behave on a routine basis: to their colleagues, to city staff members, to citizen delegates, and to members of the public at large.

Their astonishing behaviour must be seen to be believed, and it would never be tolerated in any professional work environment.

But it is tolerated at 71 Main Street West. It is tolerated around the Council horseshoe (and its current online proxy). It is tolerated in our names and on our behalf in the public administration of civic government.

The bullies are rarely if ever called out for their insults, eruptions, interruptions and other gross violations of the council code of conduct. It was a rare surprise this past Friday when the Public Works Committee chair finally ejected a council member from the meeting after their relentless and unapologetic misbehaviour.

My challenge is to the other members of Council. The ones who rarely if ever speak up. The ones who try to ignore the clown show, hoping it will stop on its own. The ones who may be afraid of themselves incurring the wrath of the bullies. The ones who may even appreciate all the attention being turned elsewhere.

When you don't speak up against these routine violations of the Council Code of Conduct, no matter your intentions, you are endorsing it with your silence.

You are endorsing the attacks on the professional integrity of city staff, making it harder for them to give honest, principled guidance to help you make good decisions.

You are endorsing the bullying of your own colleagues.

You are endorsing the verbal abuse of citizens who muster the courage to delegate to council on issues they care about, making a mockery of the city's vision to be the best place to engage citizens.

You are allowing public frustration to curdle into cynicism and apathy, instead of supporting more and better citizenship.

Ultimately, you are telling the world that bullying is okay in Hamilton, that it will be accepted and endorsed and even rewarded. The abuse it models becomes normalized and still more people become victimized by additional emboldened bullies.

Is that really what you want? Is that why you went into politics? Is it what you want to be remembered for?

There has perhaps never been a more important time to build - or rebuild - public trust in our governance institutions. We need our leaders to stand for principle, call out misconduct and hold yourselves to a high standard. It is time to announce that the bullying and abuse will no longer be tolerated.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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