Council opts to beef up security

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By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On the heels of verbal threats and at least one physical altercation, increased security is the new norm for Chatham-Kent council.

At its April 29 meeting, council approved spending just under $30,000 to reconfigure the chamber space, as well as hire security for council meetings.

The proposal will see the installation of a waist-high barrier to prevent anyone from physically entering the council horseshoe area, and seating will be rearranged to minimize risk to council and staff. Visitors will be required to don a badge when coming into a council meeting and return it when they leave.

The issue generated discussion – and questions.

Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy wanted to know what sparked the recommendation, wondering if it was a request by council or administration.

“The reason I’m asking this, as many of us will know, we sort of get beat up on this (type of) thing,” Bondy said. “I just want to clear this up that council didn’t secretly ask for these new security measures. Why are we doing this?”

Bondy said he was aware of a “little incident with some guy in a balaclava” recently but also wanted to know if increased security is a province-wide practice.

In response, chief administrative officer Michael Duben said there was no “secret” ask by council, but noted there have been incidents when councillors have felt threatened within council chambers.

However, Duben said it wasn’t appropriate to discuss the details in open session as he did not want to identify the councillors involved. He went on to say increased security at council is something that’s happening across Ontario and Canada, not only in council chambers but in municipal buildings in general.

“It comes up at almost every meeting I have with other CAOs,” Duben explained.”I have an obligation, as does everyone on senior management, to make sure everybody is safe. And so even if councillors weren’t interested in it, I have an obligation to make sure our staff are safe as well. I do think I have that same obligation to each of you as councillors, and to your families, and that’s why it’s come forward.”

The vote was split into two parts, following a request from South Kent Coun. Ryan Doyle, who said he could support having a security guard on site but couldn’t justify spending $30,000 in light of the fact the civic centre may be moving to the old Sears building.

“To spend that much money for a couple of years just doesn’t make sense to me,” Doyle said.

North Kent Coun. Jubenville echoed Doyle in support of security guards, but noted that if the rules of decorum for meetings are followed and enforced, extra security measures aren’t necessary, especially as the C-K Civic Centre may relocate.

But other councillors said increased security is necessary.

North Kent Coun. Jamie McGrail took a strong stand on the matter.

“I will absolutely support this,” the councillor said, adding she’s been subjected to people speaking to her in council chambers in a “not nice manner.

“It really shook me up,” McGrail added. “I believe everyone has the right to be able to sit in this horseshoe and make their decisions and feel good about their decisions and feel safe about their decisions.”

Wallaceburg Coun. Aaron Hall agreed, noting safety is paramount. “When you’re getting escorted down to your car by a police officer, it really makes you think about things a little bit.”

Chatham Coun. Alysson Storey pointed out that making the space safer reinforces the adage “it’s better to be safe, than sorry.”

Storey said she has felt unsafe “multiple” times at council, including an incident in April in which she interacted with a balaclava-clad man alone in a hallway outside council chambers.

The segment of the vote relating to paying for adding security guards was unanimously approved. The portion to reconfigure the space passed 12-4.

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