Sooke Coun. Kerrie Reay will not seek re-election citing what she calls “an unrelenting campaign of controversy” against her, council and district staff.
And she’s taking direct aim at social media.
“Never in my life have I worked in such a toxic environment as I have in the last 14 months,” Reay said in a prepared statement, adding she’s been called a crook, a liar, a criminal and accused of conflict of interest and engaging in illegal behaviour.
“I feel humiliated, intimidated and defamed on social media and in this [council] chamber,” she said. “Once it was a really good feeling of serving the public while sitting on this council, but that is now gone.”
She will remain in council for the remainder of her term, but will not seek re-election next year.
Controversy involving Reay began spinning in early December 2015, when Reay was accused of conflict of interest while in charge of the grants committee, earning her the moniker in local social media circles as a “liar” and “crook.”
In January 2016, another Sooke councillor allegedly made comments at the Royal Canadian Legion regarding Reay and the hiring process of chief administrative officer Teresa Sullivan, a topic of discussion that remains controversial in Sooke.
In her statement, Reay named local social media, including Britt Santowski, publisher of the Sooke Pocket News, for posts allegedly containing “inaccurate information” and stirring controversy.
“What culminated all that negativity was Ms. Santowski’s post, ‘Hiring practices at the District of Sooke questionable’,” Reay said, adding that false information shared on Facebook, Twitter and other social media is “creating a fractured community” and that people are unsure of what is true and what is false.
“I pretty much stand on my own and if I do make a mistake, I’m the first one to run to the press and say I screwed up,” Santowski told the Sooke News Mirror, adding she hopes the district strives to be more preemptive in managing its communications.
“The solution rests with everybody … staff, elected officials and the media,” she said.
Sooke Mayor Maja Tait said she was disheartened to hear Reay’s announcement, and described her colleague’s credentials and moral stature as solid.
“Coun. Reay is a devoted, committed, hard-working councillor who is always well prepared and spends a lot of time understanding issues, following up with residents and doing her best for the community,” Tait said.
“It saddens me to hear her current state of wellbeing, how negativity can consume a decent person and having them turn away from wanting to serve in the public interest.”
Reay, who worked for 32 years in the B.C. Public Service and served on Sooke council for five years, said the last 14 months were “relenting and all-consuming” for her and her family, which is what prompted her decision.
Still, she says she’s still in the game – at least until her tenure is over.
“I want to ensure the people of Sooke that in my capacity as your elected councillor and for the remainder of my term, I will continue to serve with the same determination, commitment and dedication as I have over the past five years.”
Tait reiterated that instead of lingering on and fighting unwinnable battles on social media, everyone should look at moving past this and forward, business as usual, with council’s long agenda of projects and goals for this year.
“You could spend, hours, days, months on Facebook, but what in the end does it accomplish … you’re only addressing one particular audience, either people who follow my Facebook page or profile, or membership of a select group,” Tait said.
“In my case, I’m moving on. We have work to do, and that’s what I’m focused on.”