Councillors Vote Not to Suspend Stallholder

By RTH Staff
Published June 02, 2011

The City just issued a news release stating that the members of today's General Issues Committee voted not to proceed with the suspension of the Farmers' Market stallholder who was suspended for allegedly slapping a customer's hand. Instead, the stallholder will be issued a written warning.

Due to section 8.1 (b) of the City of Hamilton's Procedural By-Law [PDF link], the discussion was held in camera and personal details related to the incident cannot be disclosed. However, it most likely refers to the recent suspension of Ethilda "Tilly" Johnson, which has generated a lot of controversy since the Hamilton Spectator reported the incident.

The GIC committee passed the following motion today:

a) That the current complaint under the Zero Tolerance for Violence Policy in the Hamilton Farmers' Market be terminated;

b) That the stallholder be issued a written warning regarding future compliance under the Zero Tolerance for Violence Policy;

c) That a review be conducted of the process for enforcement of the Market By-law, the appeal process, the Stallholder Contract and the Zero Tolerance for Violence Policy with a report back to the Hamilton Farmers' Market Transition Sub-Committee.

Johnson refused to accept the suspension, arguing that she was never given an opportunity to defend herself against the claim or appeal the decision. She retained the services of a lawyer.

Joe-Anne Priel, General Manager of Community Services, is quoted in the City news release saying, "I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with our current Zero Tolerance Policy and its intent. However, there is a public perception that there may be procedural issues with enforcement."

Staff are reviewing the appeal mechanism and enforcement strategy "to ensure that the public has confidence in our process".

Council will receive this vote from the GIC, which includes every Councillor, and have a final chance to ratify the motion at a special June 6 meeting that was called specifically for this purpose.


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By Riiiight (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 17:12:50

Now that is one mealy mouthed statement from Priel. A "public perception"? Or maybe it's just plain wrong that you can be suspended without getting a chance to defend yourself.

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By Lawyer (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 21:34:17

Priel don't know her donkey from a hole in the ground!
What kind of policy is a zero tolerance for violence?
An unwanted slap on the hand could constitute an assault and only the police can investigate such a matter and deal with it under the criminal code.If a complaint was to be made, it should have been to the police.
Since when has Community Services set itself up as police, judge, and jury?????????????

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By I hate bullies (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 22:42:07

Ms Priel should not be talking about zero tolerance for violence, I am talking about bullying, when we know that those who struggle are bullied all the time by OW and ODSP workers. I know of other city workers who engage in bullying the public, abuse of authority or power, yet when you make complaints, they go unanswered at times. They still keep their jobs, meanwhile many workers out in the private sector have no protection when it comes to bullying in the workplace. The usual answer is it is a personality conflict, which is BS.

Why hasn't Ms Priel come up with a uniformed policy that the public can use that ensures that all workers who are working in social services are giving out the same message to those who struggle?

How can it be that some workers do thier best given the constraints to try and serve clients in a respectful and helpful way, yet others act as gatekeepers and do not give out information?

Just recently I was targeted by a bully at a local job search location, I was apparently typing too loud, if there is such a thing. So we have a city worker who is mostly likely very bored and angry at their low level job and they feel that they can intimidate people with complete BS.

Maybe Ms Priel can explain why people working for the city can pass the buck, as I had tried to get info about dental stuff. It is apparent to me that no one knows anything and as people working as either customer service or information clerks seem not to want to anwser a person's question. If I am calling special income about how things work, why would that bonehead refer me back to another worker who told me to call special income in the first place?

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2011 at 07:36:12 in reply to Comment 64488

when we know that those who struggle are bullied all the time by OW and ODSP workers

Grassroots! You're back!

Comment edited by moylek on 2011-06-03 07:56:32

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By James (registered) | Posted June 02, 2011 at 22:58:40

After reading about this, I'm very curious about how Tilly Johnson expects people to purchase fruit and other food items without examining them first. God knows I wouldn't buy an apple without first checking it for soft spots, or a peach for bruises.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2011 at 07:44:30 in reply to Comment 64491

I feel the same way ... picking up an apple or two before buying seems irresistible to me. Like kicking the tires at an auto dealership (though a little more useful).

That said, Tilly Johnson is an 82 year old woman. If she slapped my hand for fondling her fruit, I might feel some combination of chastised and offended, but I would not feel assaulted. The proper response would be to flounce away and never darken her stall again or to apologize for touching her fruit.

I shudder to think that such a small incident can spring the hulking mass of civic bureaucracy to creaking action over such an incident - the zero-tolerance policy is an inappropriate hair-trigger for such a sprawling machine.

And now we all have front row tickets to this (very expensive) theatre of the absurd.

Comment edited by moylek on 2011-06-03 07:56:02

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By Marketto (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 08:02:49

I can tell you that Tilly is a bully and got away with it, an 82 year old bully, but a bully nevertheless...and now she wants to sue the city?!!

She smells money, and that sure beats selling bananas and nuts!!!

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted June 03, 2011 at 09:33:02

The policy is flawed. If a slap on the back of a hand is considered violence, then we have a problem with the basic definition of the word and therefore the policy itself.

I support zero tolerance for violence. It is indefensible in any environment. But is this "violence"? Certainly, it may not be the best way to endear yourself to your customers, but that's Tilly's choice to make.

Tilly's age is irrelevant. So too is her gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, education, status, awards, etc. If a 90 year old man we'd never heard of really smacked a kid hard on the back of the head, he shouldn't be cut any slack because he's old, any more than young people caught doing something wrong should be penalized more severely to "teach" them a lesson.

Tilly's hand slap may be the focus, but unless she used a hammer to deliver the slap I say revise the policy immediately. And this doesn't even get into the whole issue of a procedure that does not allow the accused to defend him or herself before a judgment is implemented.

I'd like to think Tilly could take the high road (perhaps easy for me to say) and graciously accept the City's apology instead of threatening to sue regardless of the fact that the City admits it may have been a bit heavy handed :).

She won in the court of public opinion. The City blinked. The policy will be revisited and hopefully revised. Otherwise, I fear Tilly may come across as opportunistic and bitter, neither of which is admirable.

For the City to have a zero tolerance policy that 75% of Councillors don't support makes it impossible for staff to do the right thing. I don't blame the Councillors or staff. Nor do I blame Tilly. The root cause of this whole unfortunate incident is a seriously flawed policy. This is a city-wide policy, not just a market stall holder policy, so the implications are far-reaching. All the more reason to address it immediately.

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By michel (registered) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 10:50:32

By the way, I also wrote about 'Tilly', spelled as The Spec.'s had it, but in fact, if you check her sign in the photos, it's TILLEY. m.

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By Marketto (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 10:53:33

With all due respect to H + H, we don't know that it was just a 'slap on the hand'; Tilly has contradicted herself by describing it as such and by saying 'maybe I did, maybe I didn't'. Sure she won in the court of public opinion; what 82 year old banana and nuts salesperson who has given to the community wouldn't? Councillors blinked, not staff. The policy may be flawed and a 30 day suspension does seem harsh, but where do we draw the line on unwanted physical touching?

Customers need to respect merchants, but I'd hardly say that 'touching' fruit is a transgression deserving any physical rebuke. Otherwise, I am guilty. I don't shop at Tilly's because I just don't find her merchandise or display in the least attractive; but I do shop and touch and occasionally put back at the other stall holders. I have never ever been discouraged from trying and buying and the fruitsellers are appreciative whenever I do.

I'd say in the long run, Tilly has lost more than she's gained out of this; and if she persists on suing, even more. She is an old lady who is making hay while the sun shines, but will find clouds in the horizon. As for the president/v.p. etc of the fruitseller's organization...they just smell power and want to fight back against the bureaucracy any way they can.

They pay next to nothing for the privilege of selling to us and now want the extra perk of smacking us around if we dare touch their merchandise. Maybe Fortino's will be the ultimate beneficiary.

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By Freeman (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 11:15:12 in reply to Comment 64520

"where do we draw the line on unwanted physical touching?"

It's reasonable to expect that a stallholder shouldn't be hitting customers. The question is, How do we decide that a stallholder has violated that rule? Surely you agree that someone shouldn't be punished without having a chance to defend themselves? That right goes all the way back to the Magna Carta.

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By DoubleStandard (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 11:28:53

Ugh. Tilley supporters sure know how to exploit a sympathetic character. What better way to enforce a double standard! Say what you want about zero-tolerance policies, but at least they're blind. I have a hard time believing council would have been bullied by the public (or, more likely, the group of over-involved, nosy market boosters) into overruling the policy if the vendor in question were a middle aged white guy who slapped an old lady's hand.

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By Marketto (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 11:36:27

Yes, an accused should have the right to defend him/herself. In a criminal charge, it's a court of law that this right is given to one. In a 'contractual' arrangement, it is with the landlord; given that the landlord is the city, then, the defense should be heard by those who 'manage' the contract, to wit: staff. Given that this is the market, there is a further arbiter, the subcommittee of councillors to appeal to...but rather than any of this, the media was contacted, defiance was shown as well as scorn for staff and council had to weigh in. Their choice? Support staff or support Tilley. It was no contest by this time. Has justice been done? No, I for one don't think so and will tell Tilly this Saturday when I again ignore her wares.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 11:58:49 in reply to Comment 64525

Yes, an accused should have the right to defend him/herself. In a criminal charge, it's a court of law that this right is given to one. In a 'contractual' arrangement, it is with the landlord; given that the landlord is the city, then, the defense should be heard by those who 'manage' the contract, to wit: staff.

Agreed, but when the punishment is as serious as a 30 day loss of one's livelihood, the accused (and the public) should have every right to expect similar standards to what we expect in a court of law. Something tells me that if the punishment had been a reasonable fine or a one day suspension, this would never have become an issue. If the quasi-judicial body that oversees these contractual agreements has the right to deny people their livelihoods for extended periods of time, then we have a right to expect a transparent process, otherwise they should be far more circumscribed in the severity of the punishments they are allowed to mete out.

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By Markeet (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 11:48:56 in reply to Comment 64525

"In a 'contractual' arrangement, it is with the landlord; given that the landlord is the city, then, the defense should be heard by those who 'manage' the contract, to wit: staff."

You're begging the question. The problem is that the process is unfair to vendors. The solution isn't to say we should follow the process.

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By mikeyj (registered) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 12:36:43

I've had my hand "slapped" by Tilly, and I'm not about to open my one man show 'Tilly Slapped: A Tale of Produce Selection Abuse' anytime soon. A better adjective describing the contact would be "tapped",

Personally I prefer the vendors where a light squeeze is allowed and encouraged, but she's got her policy written and posted up just like the city's Zero Tolerance for Violence Policy.

These policies actually share something in common, in that nobody reads or cares about either one of them until somebody gets slapped.

But since neither seem to be rightfully enforceable when brought to the next higher up body, why have them at all.

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By Staffer (anonymous) | Posted June 03, 2011 at 19:26:11

As Kenneth Moyle so aptly put it, this is the theatre of the absurd.
The City has the head of social services running what is essentially a commercial operation - the Farmers Market. A "zero tolerance" family violence policy is superimposed on to a commercial contract and administered by a "by-law" but not enforced by city by-law officers whose job it is to enforce city by-laws.
It is enforced by an "acting" Market Manager. Why acting and for how long acting? Acting for a long time because no one is getting off their duff to post the position and fill it. You can bet your bottom dollar that the current actor will become the fall guy for this fiasco rather than the duff sitter.
In addition to review of the policies, the City should review the organizational structure and also seek a private firm to manage Farmers Market and make the Market a success for all Hamiltonians

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2011 at 11:45:35

"The City has the head of social services running what is essentially a commercial operation - the Farmers Market."

Although Priel/Community Services is point on this story, the Hamilton Farmers' Market is under the umbrella of the Culture Division (specifically, Director of Culture Anna Bradford), which is more typically responsible for static entities like historical plaques, civic museums, municipal galleries and public art. But that doesn't change the bureaucratic mismatch, orthe fact that, while it is loaded with food culture, this is essentially a commercial operation. And apparently they're trying to recreate the roaring success of the Coach House Restaurant at Dundurn Castle.

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