Acting mayor Kerrie Reay has taken direct aim at local social media sites filled with vitriolic attacks and misinformation.
“I’ve had enough,” she said.
“I am taken aback by the meanness and negativity that has transpired on many social media sites, inaccuracy in articles and comments that encourage and promote more innuendo. Posts that don’t give the whole story, people being selective of what they post distorting the truth.”
Reay, who has served as acting mayor for the last two months due to Mayor Maja Tait’s leave of absence, has been at the centre of several controversial issues surrounding the transparency of the hiring of the new chief administrative officer, municipal staffing and the right of delegations to speak at council meetings.
She came under fire in the hiring of CAO Teresa Sullivan as chairman of the hiring committee. The decision to hire Sullivan was the decision of full council.
Three senior managers left the employ of the district soon after Sullivan joined: two left to pursue other opportunities, while the third left by “mutual agreement.” Why those employees left are protected under the provincial Freedom of Information Act which outlines what information can be disclosed and what cannot be disclosed.
“There has been a huge push on social media demanding that council or [municipal] staff release information that relates to personal information that is clearly protected under this legislation,” Reay said, but to release the information could see the municipality face a fine of up to $500,000.
The right to speak at council has also been controversial in recent weeks, where Reay only allowed council attendees to speak to items on the agenda, which is the requirement under the municipality’s procedural bylaw.
On Monday, Reay announced the municipality received a legal opinion on the issue and was correct in her interpretation of the bylaw.
“It is very clear in the procedural bylaw that all matters coming before council must be within the jurisdiction of the council. It is incumbent of the chair of the meeting to ensure that this rule is followed. To not do so is violation of our procedures bylaw,” she said at council Monday night.
“Best practices don’t apply to the law. The law is the law whether we agree with it or not.”
Reay has received support from other councillors as well.
Coun. Bev Berger said she is concerned about the misinformation generated on social media.
“People read stuff and don’t have all the facts – or the correct facts,” she said, adding she doesn’t pay any attention to the personal attacks aimed at her.
“It’s incumbent upon people to find out real information. The ones that don’t and just want to spread slanderous stuff, that’s on them.”
Coun. Rick Kasper applauded Reay for defending herself against negative comments on social media, and had a warning: “My fear is this [social media] chatter has a huge negative impact on our community. It drags everybody into this depth that no one wants to go.”
Kasper does not participate in social media chats, adding he prefers to meet people face-to-face or at council meetings. He also has his own Facebook site and uses traditional media.
Reay said as councillor she strives to do what the residents of Sooke want and sometimes it’s difficult to find a balance between special interest groups and what she called the quiet majority.
In all her dealings, Reay added, she’s always done so with fairness, kindness, compassion and honesty in mind.
“My integrity is one of the few things in life that I do have control over,” she said.
Reay said if the attacks continue she will consider legal action.
“The purpose [is to] ask people to think before you write anything down.”