Social media reaction: City of Regina's #VoteNO hashtag lobbying
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City hall's administration is under fire after using Twitter to lobby citizens to vote a certain way in an upcoming municipal referendum on a wastewater treatment management and financing model.
Five tweets using the hashtag "VoteNo", including a retweet of deputy city manager Brent Sjoberg on his personal account, have been sent from the City of Regina’s official Twitter page since Tuesday — a tactic slammed by Winnipeg ethics professor
Arthur Schafer as “not just questionable, (but) an unethical practice” for such employees who don't hold elected office.
"It’s a clear-cut violation of professional ethics for civil servants,” Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, said on Wednesday.
"The role of administrators is to administer. It's not to behave as if they are a lobby group," he added. "They are supposed to provide services for the elected council and the mayor in a politically neutral way — not to have their own political position.”
Mayor Michael Fougere said, however, that the city's administration is correct to support a decision made in February by himself and council in support of a public-private partnership (P-3) on the planned sewage treatment plant. He insisted that staff are only presenting objective information so citizens can cast informed votes in the referendum this fall.
“It’s not a question of ethics. It’s the administration providing information on a decision made by council, and there is nothing wrong with it,” Fougere told Metro.
“I have no trouble with what is out there at all — none whatsoever.”
Requests for comment from the city's administration were not granted, with staff directing Metro instead to the mayor's office.
Political analyst Tina Beaudry-Mellor of the University of Regina said it's fine for politicians such as Fougere to give their opinions on the referendum, because they are elected. She stressed, though, that the role of administrators must remain purely informational.
"Telling them to actually vote no is taking a political position," Beaudry-Mellor explained. "They are no longer just informing the public, but actually advocating.”
Beaudry-Mellor, who to avoid bias noted she's in favour of the P-3 model, added that the city's messages are counter-productive in “bullying” people instead of educating them.