In an operational health and safety memo put before city council Monday, Nov. 23, Armstrong Community Services manager Warren Smith described an incident in which a disgruntled resident made a verbal threat to staff at the public works office.
Smith’s memo explained the resident called city hall to make a complaint regarding local snow removal on Nov. 12. After not getting the response they wanted, the resident then added a “veiled threat of violence” against public works staff.
“It was a comment made that they would be coming down to our public works yard and that they were going to cause harm to our staff,” Smith told the Morning Star Thursday, Nov. 26.
Smith said city management has investigated the situation and believes the comment was flippant, and there is no sincere threat to city staff.
As in many municipalities, Smith said it’s an ongoing issue in Armstrong, particularly when it comes to snow removal operations or other city services.
He said in the three years he’s served as community services manager, there have been roughly half a dozen threats of a serious nature directed at city and public works staff. Snow removal is just one of several “testy subjects” that have led to threats of violence in the past, Smith said; others include water utility billing and other taxes.
In some cases, people have made threats against public works staff while they’re operating equipment, leaving their vehicles to approach staff members on the job. Smith said, in the last couple of years, the city has dealt with these incidents directly through its bullying and harassment policy.
The city will continue to review the incident without involving the RCMP.
Smith said the city reports threats against staff to the RCMP if deemed necessary, but chose to handle this incident internally.
Some people claim, after the fact, that the threats they made were meant to be light-hearted or humorous. Smith said that’s an invalid excuse, and won’t deter the city from taking necessary action.
“It is a reoccurring mental health issue for some of our staff, so even terms that are made in a joking manner can have a residual effect against our staff,” he said. “Even though it may have been something light-hearted, it is something that we take quite seriously.”
The city has various mechanisms for lodging a complaint in an appropriate manner — albeit with slight limitations during the pandemic. That includes contacting the city by email or phone, filing a complaint in-person at city hall or reaching out to city councillors directly, using their contact information provided on the city’s website.
“We fully understand that people get frustrated, they either don’t have all of the information, they’re upset, there’s been a burden on them, we fully understand that but want to appropriately communicate with people in a respectful manner so we can try and resolve and come to some type of agreed terms,” Smith said.