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Scott Neal, January 11, 2012 | Scott Neal
I belong to an email listserve where Minnesota city managers post and respond to one anothers’ questions. As you might imagine, it can be a really interesting listserve. Lots of interesting questions. Lots of interesting suggestions, responses and recommendations.
There are also lots of common and repeat questions from new city managers or from seasoned city managers that are turning to the listserve with an issue they have been unable to resolve. I got the following question from the listserve this morning. It happens to be from a seasoned city manager, but one for whom this might be a new issue:
I am looking for policies on staff dealing with unruly/abusive/violent
customers/residents/etc. Seems our policies are a bit vague.
Sadly, this is getting to be one of the more common questions and discussion topics on the listserve. It’s a difficult issue for those of us in the public sector to address because we are the public sector. Private sector property owners don’t have to allow undesired levels of unruly or abusive behavior. We don’t have the same protection from that behavior in the public sector because we have to be careful not to characterize citizen input that we don’t like or appreciate as “unruly or abusive behavior,” and rightfully so.
We can draw the line where speech becomes conduct. We don’t have to allow an angry customer to punch an accounting clerk in the nose. Fortunately, that action is still unlawful.
But the drawing of the line between unhappy/angry customer and the abusive/dangerous customer for us is a difficult task. Do we have to allow angry citizens to swear at employees because that angry citizen “pays our salaries”? Do we need to allow angry customers the freedom to threaten the jobs of city employees because they are unhappy with the impact of a city policy decision?
That’s the line that is most difficult to draw. So, I am interested in some feedback from readers of this blog. Where do you think we should draw the line?