Growing concerns over the “coarseness” of conversations between city staff and members of the public have led San Angelo City Council to adopt a potentially expansive policy, giving staff the authority to secretly record, hang up on, or walk away from conversations they deem “offensive.”
The “Abusive Conduct Policy” was approved by city council on May 21 at the recommendation of City Attorney Theresa James, who acknowledged the city manager could have implemented the policy internally but felt having it come from the council would lend it greater authority.
The new policy authorizes city employees to hang up the phone or walk away from complainers who demonstrate “abusive conduct.” However, the city’s definition of such conduct is broad, ranging from serious allegations of stalking and physical abuse to simply staring or social exclusion—leaving room for interpretation and even abuse of the policy itself.
According to the policy letter posted on the city website, abusive conduct is described as “an act or omission that a reasonable person would find abusive based on the severity, nature, or frequency of the conduct,” including behavior that “harms, intimidates, offends, degrades, ridicules or humiliates an employee.”
The policy also reminds city employees they can record conversations without informing the other party. Texas law permits electronic recording of conversations if one of the parties is aware it is being recorded. What is not permitted is for a third party to record a conversation without informing at least one of the parties.
The measure passed 6-1, with Mayor Brenda Gunter alone not concurring. Her reason was that the directive contains no mention of penalties for noncompliance.
There was no discussion of the reasons members of the public have become increasingly “coarse” in their language and behavior in the last few years.