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LETTER: Resident upset with integrity commissioner's report about Mayor's postings

'There doesn't seem to be anything we can do about it,' reader states
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GuelphToday recieved the following Letter to the Editor from reader Aerin Smith, who expresses concerns with the recent Integrity Comissioner's report: 

I am writing in regards to the piece in GuelphToday about the recent Integrity Commissioner's report. I was one of the people who submitted a complaint, and am obviously disappointed in the outcome. I wrote a letter to city council about it, and have copied it below.

As a Guelph resident, it makes me so upset to see our Mayor treat members of our community so poorly, and there doesn't seem to be anything we can do about it. Here's what I sent to council:

As a Guelphite, I am completely baffled by some of the findings of this report, to the point that I am questioning the purpose of even having a Code of Conduct or an Integrity Commissioner. I respectfully request that someone on council pull this report from the consent agenda so it can be discussed during the upcoming council meeting and constituents can get some answers:

1. How on earth is the Mayor's Twitter page considered a "personal" account? His twitter handle is literally "Mayor Cam Guthrie", and he frequently uses this account to tweet municipal information and mayoral announcements. Any reasonable person landing on this page or coming across a tweet from this account would think this is an official communication channel from the City of Guelph. Why is the mayor allowed to use city business to drive traffic ... use that traffic to platform himself & causes of his choosing, but then escape consequences for behaviour inappropriate to his office by claiming it's a personal account? Currently the Mayor is enjoying all the benefits his Office brings to his social media while avoiding any accountability, as we see in this report from the Integrity Commissioner.

2. Paragraph 31 of the report states:  "It seems apparent—from the social media posts shared by the Complainants—that the Mayor deployed mocking sarcasm towards the X Users during the relevant exchanges. The X Users also happened to identify as non-white, non-binary, disabled, or all three. We cannot regard this behavior as “using humour” to “defuse the situation” (as claimed by the Mayor in his response)."

This paragraph is shocking to me. The Integrity Commissioner acknowledges that the Mayor targeted members of vulnerable minorities, and then the Mayor claimed he was "just joking" when multiple members of the community took action to stand up to the Mayor's behaviour. I would expect to see a response like this from a teenager on 4chan, not from the Mayor in an official report.

As a constituent, I simply don't understand why the Mayor is above accountability.

3. Paragraph 34 of the report is also shocking: "During the relevant exchanges on social media, the Mayor responded to the X Users who criticized his actions (thereby also “retweeting” these critiques). According to the Mayor’s Response, he “took the higher road” by making “the decision to disengage.” The Mayor also admitted in his response, however, that he was angered by some of these criticisms. This anger is evident in his retorts. He did not ignore the X Users or substantively engage with their critiques – both of which were options open to him. Instead, he chose to respond with sarcasm. We find that this tactic had the effect of diminishing well-intentioned criticisms and potentially inciting repulsive replies from other X users."

The Integrity Commissioner acknowledges that the Mayor's actions "had the effect of diminishing well-intentioned criticisms and potentially inciting repulsive replies from other X users." - in other words, the Mayor is using his so-called personal account to stifle legitimate criticism of his behaviour as an elected official, and then responding disingenuously to the integrity commissioner about how he acted? And this is fine? No consequences for this?

4. What is even the point of Sections 1 and 2 of the Code of Conduct if there are no consequences for flagrantly disregarding them? Here are highlights from these sections of the Code, and I challenge anyone on council to tell me that the Mayor's online behaviour as described in the complaints met these standards:

As a Guelphite, I am embarrassed by the Mayor's online behaviour. Seeing my Mayor use "mocking sarcasm" towards "non-white, non-binary, disabled" members of our community when they attempt to address an elected official online with a legitimate political and public health concern, is truly upsetting to watch. I am ashamed of our community and how Guelph, via our Mayor, treated our vulnerable community members during these Twitter exchanges.

I respectfully urge members of Council to address these issues.

If the Code of Conduct and city policies are inadequate to address the Mayor's so-called personal use of social media, or to impose consequences for acting like a big bully towards members of marginalized groups online and then "playing the victim" (per the Integrity Commissioner) when called out, then I suggest that the Code of Conduct and / or the policies are inadequate for the realities of our current social media environment.

I also respectfully urge members of Council to vocally state and show their support for public engagement and comment from their constituents, and to decry the use of the Mayor's "personal" social media to stifle dissenting political opinions. Between the strong mayor powers, and the complete inability to hold the Mayor accountable for his public behaviour, I am beginning to wonder what is even the point of pretending there is any oversight or accountability? Let's just crown him King Cam and be done with it, as he can apparently do and say whatever he wants in office as long as he pays a monthly subscription fee to Twitter from his personal bank account. This is very disheartening and frustrating to watch as a member of the public, and I am looking to council to stand up for the voices of their constituents and stand up for good governance.

Aerin Smith,