Use of Social Media by Mayor Rob Burton: Private or Official?

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Use of Social Media by Mayor Rob Burton: Private or Official?
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Nolan A Machan

Nolan A Machan

Nolan Machan is the Publisher of OakvilleNews.Org and has over 41 years of local Oakville knowledge. He is committed to providing Oakville residents with the most up-to-date information about our great town.

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At council today, a member of the public asked Oakville Town Council to send an affidavit to the integrity commissioner regarding the Mayor Burton’s tweet about Stephen Harper’s decision to hire private security on top of what the Government of Canada already provides. I do not want go into any more details, since it has been spoken about at length.

Municipal governments have traditionally not been aligned to political parties. However, we see and have observed for years various town councillors and mayors across the country be aligned with a political party, and now use their Social Media Accounts to voice their opinions. Former Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto was a very loud supporter of the Conservative Party of Canada. Did all his constituents believe and support his political affiliation. The answer is obviously “no”.

During the last Ontario provincial election, many of the mayors stood together to oppose the Conservative Party. Is this something that Mayors should do, since they will always have to work with the elected government regardless of their support.

So what are your thoughts about elected municipal officials who are using their social media accounts to promote one political party or another. Please keep in mind that social media accounts, where it is clearly indicated that they are an elected official. As an example Rob Burton’s twitter handle is @OakvilleMayor.  Since the tweet which caused so much media attention, Mayor Rob Burton has recently changed his twitter description to state that it is a “Personal account: Town of Oakville operates its own official account, @TownOfOakville.”

We recently asked a question if a Mayor should support a political party. Here are the results:
Yes: 13.1%
No: 80.3%
Depends: 5.7%

So here is the question:

[yop_poll id=”6″]

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Readers Comments (5)

  1. Gordon Brennan says:

    Thank you for writing this article Nolan, During last nights Council meeting exchange of questions and answers it was stated that there was a prior inquiry into @oakvillemayor and that is was acceptable to use that account as personal. What I didn’t get to ask in rebuttal, was that a public report or an internal memo that Councillor Damoff was referring to? I have never heard of such a report before in the public domain. My responses to the Councillors questions were that I was not interested in technical jargon or looking for Oakville’s corporate logo on the Mayors Twitter account, my concern was what the general public’s perception is and that has been that @oakvillemayor is official. Having said that, I reminded Councillor Knoll that the social guidelines clearly state that “under Council’s Code of Conduct and the town’s communications procedure, the Mayor is the official spokesperson for the town and this will apply to social media.” I believe that is a clear as it can be.

  2. John McLaughlin says:

    Whether a Twitter account is private or “public” – is a red herring. There are no such “private” statements on social media – it’s all public.

    Under the Municipal Act, 2001 the Mayor is the representative of the Town of Oakville – both domestically and internationally – at all times.

    Any comments of the Mayor, partisan or otherwise, must conform at all times with the provisions and spirit of the Code of Conduct and other relevant laws and policies. That’s part of the accountability framework every mayor (and elected officials) are subject to.

    In my opinion, a sitting mayor who wades into partisan politics, is subject to the Code of Conduct – irrespective of whether they chose to use an “official” or “private” social media account to propagate their views.

    The issue is whether any such statements contravene the Code of Conduct – not whether they were issued from a private or public account. Otherwise, for example a Mayor could make hateful or discriminatory comments on a private account – on social media to the entire world – and claim there is no accountability because it was a “private” account. Simply Absurd.

  3. V. Law says:

    Nolan, your first question, is confusing as you cannot answer using yes or no. It should read either:
    Do you consider the Mayor’s Account a private and personal account?
    Do you consider the Mayor’s Account an official account?

  4. Wayne Bowes says:

    A bit vague, but the 2011 report from Integrity Commissoner Robert Swayze (searchable on the city website) seems to support that the mayor and councilors can support partisan candidates if they want. Form that report…

    “A media release was issued by Councillor Kahn and his campaign manager in 2009 which confirmed the support of the Mayor and five town councillors to his candidacy for the Liberal nomination but nothing contained in that release can be
    construed as asserting a Town position in federal politics. I reaffirm my verbal statement to Council that in my opinion there is nothing wrong with councillors exercising their democratic right in an election for a different level of government to support candidates and to speak at candidate meetings, including identifying their position in the Town. ”

    Looks like someone barked up this tree already and found nothing wrong.

  5. John McLaughlin says:

    Town Councillors and the Mayor must conform with all applicable laws, including the Code of Conduct – in any conduct they engage in relating to their office or position.

    There is no exception – for example – for misconduct in any “partisan” politics in this accountability framework.

    I don’t recall the Mayor or Councillors being given express powers under the Municipal Act, 2001 – to act in a partisan manner – rather than promoting the interests of the Town of Oakville and acting in the best interests of its resident’s.

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