Spurred by what he calls a “reprehensible” social media post from a taxpayer-funded organization, a city councillor is questioning whether code of conduct rules for city staff and local boards can – and should – be applied to those groups.
Coun. Dan Gibson raised the question during last week’s special council meeting to hear from delegates about the proposed 2022 and 2023 city budget.
“If an organization we’re partnering with is expressing, in my mind, reprehensible views on things like faith or race or the police, like city staff … what is our legal ability to extend our code of conduct on social media use out to them,” he told GuelphToday during a subsequent interview.
“If they’re getting thousands of dollars in taxpayers’ money every year, it would appear that our city is aligned with them on whatever messaging they’re putting out.”
Gibson declined to identify the group or posts that caught his ire.
“If an organization is expressly political, at what point do we as an organization from an operations and reputational perspective say ‘You’re a little too out there, we can’t be seen funding you taxpayer money to carry on your political agendas,’” questioned Gibson.
Gibson noted the matter is “aligned” with community benefit agreements (CBA) funded through the city budget.
There are only two CBA budget requests currently sitting in front of council for a decision – Guelph Humane Society ($150,000 annual increase) and the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition ($246,600 annual increase).
With delegated authority, city staff typically manage and approve CBAs, but these requests have been put to council for a decision due to their amounts, deputy CAO Colleen Clack-Bush told council last week.
"As we have no knowledge or understanding of what councillor Gibson was referring to as a 'reprehensible' social media post, we are unable to comment on this," stated GHS executive director Adrienne McBride in an email. "However, I can assure you that our organization enforces a strict social media policy that would not allow for content considered to be ‘reprehensible’ to be posted on any of our social media channels."
Given that GNCS has not been specifically identified as the source of Gibson's concern, executive director Brendan Johnson said it would be inappropriate to comment.
A Twitter account linked off the GNSC website –@guelphnsc – no longer exists, notes a statement that shows up when the link is clicked.
Gibson said he expects council members to receive a confidential legal opinion on the matter this week.
“If there’s nothing I can do, there’s nothing I can do,” he said. “It’s a tricky world we live in.”
The goal, Gibson added, is to ensure services are being delivered on the city’s behalf in a “ non-discriminatory way and that everyone feels safe and welcome walking through the doors of that association.”