Facebook comments a contentious issue

Saanich council involved in raucous debate over comments on mayor's Facebook page

In council as in anything else, there will be high points and there will be low points.

Item D2 on Monday night’s agenda was certainly a case of the latter, as the nuances of Mayor Richard Atwell’s Facebook page (called Richard Atwell Mayor of Saanich) were deconstructed in a public forum.

It was contentious to say the least.

The current Saanich council has faced its challenges and accusations of disfunction. And while there is a saying you have to hit rock bottom before you can rebuild, certain members of council not only hit the rocks on Monday night, they started throwing them.

Coun. Fred Haynes brought the page in question to council out of concern for the “disparaging comments” that existed there.

It should be stated they were not written by Atwell. His posts are built around the accomplishments he and Saanich have encountered since beginning his term as mayor in December. Many of them are mobile uploads, a grassroots approach to being mayor that is a fabric of Atwell’s style.

However, unlike other councillor’s Facebook pages, anyone is free to post whatever they like, and among the many responses on the wall are defamatory accusations of incompetence in Saanich, including comments directed loosely at the staff in general. And that in particular is where Haynes took issue.

But for all the progressive work that Saanich council has done since December, including working through more distractions than arguably any other municipality in B.C., the resulting discussion was cringeworthy.

Yet between all the snide, side and underhanded comments there was more than enough silver lining. Atwell agreed he will better manage his Facebook account.

In the words of Coun. Colin Plant, any social media account attached to the name of Saanich must be held to the same degree of responsibility as the chambers of council and the rest of municipal hall.

So close the (face) book.

After all, next week is a new week. And we can continue to expect a grounded, yet high-level approach from Saanich council. Because even on circus night, it can put the chair down, look into the lion’s eye, and make a unanimous decision that benefits all concerned.