An interesting dilemma in Spokane, Washington, regarding a paid Facebook ad

This is one that I think has a series of interesting political implications and is very worthy of debate, not for how controversial the action is, but because of the potentially chilling effect it could have on free speech.

Here’s the background.  Spokane, Washington, just past an ordinance which requires most employers offer paid sick leave.  As you can imagine, this was a highly controversial issue.  Councilwoman Karen Stratton was one of the supporters of the ordinance.  In the most recent election she was opposed by Evan Verduin, the owner of an architectural design firm.  Verduin also opposed the paid sick leave ordinance and was upset that Councilwoman Stratton, among others, didn’t conduct more study or outreach to the business community.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Verduin took to Facebook to express his opposition to the new policy and the way in which it became law:

“Now that the election season is over, the City Council has voted to enact the sick leave ordinance without additional study. There was no additional outreach to local businesses, no contact with business associations, and a total disregard of dozens of scientific studies that prove legislation like this harms those most for whom it is intended to help. Karen Stratton and wanted this legislation passes, and they delayed the vote prior to election to mislead the voters of Spokane. Shame on you Karen!”

Verdium then used his campaign funds to pay for the post to appear as a sponsored ad.

Another twist: Veridun is a member of Spokane’s Planning Commission and up for reappointment, which is subject to the consent of Council.  Councilwoman Stratton has announced that she will oppose Veridun’s appointment, laying out her reasons why in a letter to Council and the Mayor:

“The most charitable characterization of his comments is that they were juvenile and immature. In any other context, the comments could be defamatory and actionable.”

“The issue is whether Mr. Verduin is capable of engaging in civil public discourse that reflects well on the City and the Plan Commission.”

My feeling?  I can understand Councilwoman Stratton’s feelings, I really can.  That being said, I disagree with the decision to oppose Veridun’s appointment.  One of the most difficult things in politics – one that I will openly admit I struggle with – is dealing with the fact that citizens can say mean, nasty, terrible things about you.  Facebook gives your critics a megaphone.  Public officials may not like it, but within some very broad limits, there’s nothing that can be done about it.  If you assume that citizens criticizing elected officials is appropriate – and I do – then I think it’s unfair to oppose a citizen’s reappointment to a commission, provided that the citizen in question is doing a good job and represents your views.

Again, this is a difficult one, but public officials have to have thick skin.  That being said, I acknowledge that this is easy for me to say…I’m on the other side of the country.  If I were Councilwoman Stratton, I may feel very differently!

 

Minneapolis councilwoman releases names & contact information of constituents who disagreed

Elected officials are frequently contacted by constituents who agree or disagree with them on issues.  This is totally normal, expected and healthy.  Frankly, I wish I was contacted more by constituents, even those who disagree, because at least that would mean that people were paying attention!

Anyway, when a constituent contacts an elected official, it is totally reasonable to expect a response from that official, with the elected in question explaining their position.  What should never be expected, of course, is that the elected official releases the private correspondence from a constituent – along with that constituents name and contact information.

Yet, in Minneapolis, that is exactly what happened.

Council member Alondra Cano appeared at a Black Lives Matter rally last week.  Stephen Dent, a previous supporter of Councilwoman Cano, wrote to the Councilwoman to complain, saying that she was unfit to serve office because of her attendance at the rally.  Cano then tweeted out the letter that Dent wrote, along with his name and contact information.  The councilwoman did the same to others – here’s an example:

Dent, understandably, was less than pleased, as are others.  For her part, Councilwoman Cano has not responded to inquiries from the media about the issue.

 

It is important to note that what Councilwoman Cano did is not illegal.  State open records laws do not prohibit the releasing of personal information or constituent correspondence.  That being said, this is insane.  Unquestionably, some of the Emails that the Councilwoman chose to publicize is disgusting and a poor example of how to influence an elected official.  That being said, like it or not, people have a right to (within broad limits) say whatever they want to an elected official.  It is inappropriate for an elected official to release contact information of people who contact them. This can easily be interpreted as an attempt to intimate and silence constituents who disagree, even if that wasn’t the intent.

 

Tweets and Consequences

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Ohio Mayor says blacks declared war on whites

In this time of racial tension and discord, all elected officials have an obligation to watch what they say, in order to ensure that their speech is always as measured and anti-inflammatory as possible.

This is a lesson which could have been used by the Drew Hastings, Mayor of Hillsboro, Ohio (population 6,600), who took to Facebook last week and wrote:

“When are people going to figure out that we are in a Revolution in this Country. Blacks have all but formally declared war on whites, ideological types are fighting with Planned Parenthood, there’s violence over immigration, Muslim extremism, and our own Government at war with its citizens.”

Really?  Black people have “all but formally declared war on whites?”  That’s what you are going with??

The post was deleted but the damage was obviously done.  Hastings originally said that he started by discussed Planned Parenthood but the conversation escalated from there.  Two days later, he said he regretted the post and apologized:

“I have a good relationship in this city with our black community, and I regret them feeling included in some broad, over-the-top statement I made. I apologize to them.”

Alrighty then.  Well, let’s take Mayor Hastings at his word for a moment.  Hastings said that the post was just an escalation of a passionate conversation about an emotional and tragic event.  I think this goes to show the importance of taking a breath and slowing down before you make any social media post – particularly about issues as emotional as racism or violence.  All of us can learn something from this event: Don’t let social media be the first thing you turn to when you are trying to work through your own feelings about an issue.  Let it be the last one, when you have a mature, thoughtful and rational contribution to make.

Tweets and Consequences

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twitter-blocked-policy

Don’t block your opponents

This is just a silly, unforced error.

George Osborne is a Member of Parliament in England; he is part of the Conservative Party.  Apparently, he’s no fan of the Liberal Democratic party, because when it comes to Twitter, the Liberal Democratic party recently made this post:

Seriously?  What is this, 10th grade?

As noted by Buzzfeed, the Liberal Democratic party recently used their Twitter account to mock Osborne.  That being said, there’s nothing surprising about the press account for a party mocking members of the opposition – honestly, that’s half of what they do.  It makes no sense that Osborne would appear to have such a thin skin and give the Liberal Democrats an easy talking point against him.

If I’ve learned anything during my time in public office, it’s that you have to have a thick skin.  It’s not necessarily fun, but it’s life.  At the same time:

1) Blocking your opponents doesn’t actually do anything – all they need to do is sign out and they can see your content.

2) If you are tired of reading attacks on you, you can “mute” people on Twitter – this means that they will be removed from your mentions feed, as well as your timeline – and the other person won’t be any the wiser.  I don’t recommend this for politicians – I think it’s best to read what others are saying about you, even if it’s nasty, but mute is certainly preferable to blocking someone.

Astoundingly dumb: School Board Member in community bordering Newtown suggests honoring victims by buying ammunition

I’ve written about some dumb things here, but this one…wow.

Two months ago, Gregory Beck was elected to the Brookfield, Conneticut school board.  Brookfield directly boarders Newtown, site of last years massacre that saw twenty first graders and six adults murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary school.  Obviously, this community, like the others in the area, live in the immediate shadows of the tragedy.

One of the many ways that the victims of Newtown are being honored is by a program called “26 Days of Kindness” that seeks to remember the dead by encouraging people to engage in 26 random acts of kindness.  It is one in a series of tributes to the victims.  As you can imagine, one of the ways that this initiative is being promoted is via Facebook.

And that’s when Greg Beck said this incredibly stupid thing:

GregBeckStepDown

In response to a Facebook post about 26 Days of Kindness, Beck commented, “i shall buy my friends who are gun enthusiasts a box of ammunition on days 1-26”

What.  Just…what.  What.

Calls for Beck, 26, to resign, began immediately after his statement.  Beck sat through two board meetings in which the public comment portion of the meeting was dominated by calls that Beck step down over his remarks.  Beck did apologize in a statement, saying:

The comments were insensitive and completely indefensible. I acknowledge the damage this has caused and truly had no malicious intentions. I unequivocally apologize to the citizens of Brookfield, Newtown and all others whom I have offended or hurt. I am sorry for my mistake and ask for your forgiveness which I hope to earn with time.

It didn’t stem the flow of anger, and Beck has resigned on Tuesday.

It got even worse for Beck, however: he apparently made the posts while at work as an emergency dispatcher, and two citizens filed ethics complaints against him.  However, at a hearing yesterday, it was announced that Beck would keep his job and not face any reprimand.  Through his lawyer, Beck admitted the stupidity of his comments and said that they were poorly timed, but didn’t interfere with his job performance.  The ethics board decided to take no action, saying there was no legal basis to remove him from office.

For the life of me, I cannot imagine what Mr. Beck was thinking here.  It goes to show, as most of these entries do, that you have to be careful with what you say on Social Media.  You also have to be careful with when you say it – Beck was on taxpayer time when he made this comment, and this situation could have been a lot worse if his employer had policies in place that prohibited the use of Social Media while at work.  Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that an emergency dispatcher is allowed to use Social Media while working…seems like that would be a pretty clear distraction to me, but I also don’t know the ins and outs of emergency dispatch, so I could be completely off base.

What do you think?  Was this handled right?  Let us know in the comments!