Conversation got heated at Calgary City Hall on Tuesday as councillors came out of a closed-door meeting with one claiming he’d been bullied and swinging accusations at his colleagues.
Councillors have been debating the new, four-year budget proposal since Monday, but had left chambers for an in-camera update on labour negotiations with unionized staff. When that portion of the meeting broke, Jeromy Farkas said he was trying to defend himself when he experienced “fundamentally bullying behaviour,” which he called “incredibly unfair.”
He went on to accuse the rest of the councillors of staging a walkout as he began to speak.
“It is unacceptable for so many others to have the opportunity to speak and to attack positions that I put forward and yet the moment I am able to defend myself and to speak to it, council stages a walkout,” he said.
“It’s incredibly unfair, I think it is disrespectful – not just to me as a member of council, but to the residents of Ward 11 that I represent – so I just want to vocally, in the strongest terms, state my objection.”
His comments were not welcomed among some of his fellow councillors or Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who all but scolded the Ward 11 councillor and suggested he take this opportunity to reflect on his own disrespectful behaviour both in and out of council chambers.
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“When you play with fire, this can happen,” Nenshi said.
“If you are constantly treating your colleagues disrespectfully, both around this table and in the public, then why do you expect respect back?”
Nenshi went on to say that no other councillor was experiencing the same kind of treatment, adding that Farkas shouldn’t say things to the media he wouldn’t be willing to say at the council table.
Councillor Jyoti Gondek called Farkas’ accusations “an abject lie.”
The two went back and forth, interrupting each other for some time, before Gondek suggested Farkas needed to treat others with more respect if he expects it in return.
“But to come out here and say that you were bullied is a total and complete lie,” she said. “I can’t sit here and listen to you say you’re being bullied, Councillor Farkas. Totally false.”
Councillor Peter Demong defended his decision to walk out of the meeting, citing an earlier motion he’d made to reduce the amount of time council spends in closed-door meetings.
“One of the reasons I decided to walk out of an in-camera meeting – and I’m going to start doing this more often – is when we start digressing and talking about topics that are not actually in-camera to discuss, I’m going to start leaving,” Demong said.
“That is why I left when I did. The conversation had gone well beyond where we were supposed to be back there with and the last few speakers and obviously, the one that had just started was going onto a completely different tangent.”