Port Alberni city council is looking into creating a social media policy for elected officials after one city councillor was caught using a fake profile online.
Mayor Mike Ruttan brought the motion to city hall on Monday, July 9, commenting that Port Alberni has a “gap” in its current policy.
“We have a social media policy that applies to staff, but it doesn’t apply to elected officials,” he pointed out.
Communities like Parksville, Trail, Pitt Meadows, and Tofino have policies that set out expectations for elected city officials interacting with each other and the public on social media.
“It’s important for each of us to engage with the public in multiple ways,” said Ruttan. “But we must always have the highest level of conduct if we do engage.”
Councillor Chris Alemany was caught in late June using an account under the name “Ronald Richard Eastings” in order to gain access to AV Chatter Box—a Port Alberni-based social media group he had previously been banned from. Alemany was caught after responding to a post praising fellow councillor Denis Sauve.
“I saw Councillor Alemany and his daughter last night picking up beer cans and garbage…” the post from Ronald Richard Eastings read. “I guess I should have put it on Facebook to see who could get the most likes…or maybe not, because maybe that’s not what is really important. I think Denis and Chris and every councillor works hard for their community in their own way.”
|Councillor Chris Alemany was found using a false name on Facebook|
Alemany apologized for his conduct both on Facebook and in person on Monday.
“Elected officials are told from day one that they are representatives of the City and their actions and words in the public matter for the repute of the City no matter the form of communication,” he posted on a Facebook page called Alberni Valley Politics. “My actions and words clearly did not live up to a standard people, or I, would expect. For that I am sorry.”
Alemany added on Monday that making himself available to the public on Facebook has been a “priority” over the past four years.
Brian Calm, who manages and moderates AV Chatter Box, was in council chambers on Monday. He said Alemany was originally removed from the Facebook group by decision of the ombudsperson, a lawyer and city staff.
“It was decided that it was best to keep [Alemany] out of the group,” said Calm.
Calm also alleged that Alemany has been sending “threatening letters” to moderators of AV Chatter Box, threatening legal action if they don’t meet his demands. Alemany chose not to respond to these allegations when approached following the council meeting.
The motion to create a social media policy was supported unanimously by city council, but Councillor Sharie Minions pointed out that this could have come forward much earlier.
“There have been times when leadership from the city, or from council and mayor, was very much needed on social media, and at those points no leadership was shown,” she said. “I think this could have been brought forward as a supportive motion, rather than one where a mistake has been made on social media.”
Minions faced online criticism in March 2017 after Ruttan brought forward a proposal that child care costs for city councillors should be partially covered by the city.
Yet it was Minions, who has young children, who faced most of the backlash on social media—not the mayor.
“I don’t have child care costs,” Minions said at the time. “It wasn’t my initiative.”
Minions and Councillor Ron Paulson emphasized on Monday that the social media policy should not be a way of censoring dialogue on social media.
“Morally and socially, we need to be responsible for what we do and what we say,” said Paulson.
“At the end of the day we all should be holding ourselves to the highest standard we can,” added Minions. “But we’re also human and we all make mistakes.”