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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Mayor of Superior, Wisconsin, takes to Facebook to call President Obama a Muslim

Welcome back from Christmas break, everyone!  Here’s how we’ll be starting the social media day.

Bruce Hagen is the Mayor of Superior, Wisconsin (population about 27,000).  Hagen, in response to a picture of First Lady Michelle Obama, wrote the following on Facebook:

“Unbelievable! She and her Muslim partner have destroyed the fabric of democracy that was so very hard fought for!”

Ahh, so we’re going with the “Obama is a Muslim” meme again, I see.  That’s lovely.

Needless to say, the city’s residents and other elected officials were not amused.  Five City Councilors called for Mayor Hagen to resign in the wake of his remarks, with Councilors calling the remarks “inappropriate.”  Mayor Hagen, for his part, refuses to resign, saying: “Am I gonna resign? Absolutely not. If the people of this community feel otherwise, they will vote me out of office.”

The standard response of Hagen’s remarks, from defenders, is probably something along the lines of “Free speech!”  They are right, of course – to a point.  The Mayor is, unquestionably, entitled to say whatever he wants (within certain broad limits) without fear of government repercussions.  But here’s the thing: Free speech doesn’t mean freedom from the consequences of your speech, and elected officials are, as I’ve said a thousand times, held to a higher standard for the content of their remarks.  Indeed, this was best elucidated by City Councilor Graham Garfield, who said, “”Sure he’s entitled to free speech.  But elected officials are held accountable for stupid things they do and say.”

Tweets and Consequences

Like the blog?  Get the book!  Tweets and Consequences: 60 Social Media Disasters in Politics and How You Can Avoid A Career-Ending Mistake is now available on Amazon for purchase or download.