Saint John Citizens Coalition calls for council to censure mayor for online comments
A Saint John man is asking that Mayor Don Darling be censured due to alleged code of conduct violations.
In a letter obtained by Global News, Douglas James lists a series of online interactions that he believes to be violations of council’s code of conduct policy and requests that Darling be censured.
The alleged violation dates back to a Facebook post from July 30, 2019 when Darling posted a letter received by council from the Saint John Citizens Coalition asking about the mayor’s personal blog initiative GrowSJ. The 13 questions were meant to determine if Darling was using city resources for the project, which the group said would violate the code of conduct.
Darling provided answers to the 13 questions on his Facebook page and admitted that some city resources were used in the production of the blog, but denied any code of conduct violations. But the coalition has since become more concerned with the preamble where they say Darling “publicly criticized the Saint John Citizens Coalition, demeaning citizens in the eyes of the public by suggesting they are just ‘four people’ with a bone to pick.”
Now the group, which bills itself as “a place for discussion of city issues,” is blaming the mayor for inflammatory comments left on the post.
“His preamble served to incite his social media power base against the Saint John Citizens Coalition and the signee of the letter Randall Goodwin,” wrote Douglas James in the latest letter, dated Aug. 13, 2019.
The letter goes on to list several examples of comments from social media users where Goodwin and the coalition are called various names, and in one case threatened with violence. Screenshots of the exchange have been attached to the letter.
“Randall Goodwin is an idiot. I had to block him during the Jellybean Houses discussion because he was irrational, aggressive, and quite frankly, barely literate!” reads one comment.
“He’s a piece of work. I’d gladly slap his teeth down his throat,” says another.
WATCH: Saint John group alleges comments made by mayor Don Darling violates code of conduct
James says that this constitutes a violation of Article 8.7 of the code of conduct that states: “Members of Council shall not engage in or encourage bullying, flaming, or shaming of any other social media users. These types of interactions on social media misplace the focus of interaction on attacking individuals rather than engaging in constructive discussion or debate. This manner of communication is inconsistent with the Code of Conduct and unbecoming of the office that members hold.”
Because the comments happened on Darling’s personal Facebook page that he uses as his primary means of communication with citizens, the group says that he is ultimately responsible for moderation.
“Because Mr. Darling himself was monitoring the posts in real-time and administers the Facebook page himself, he is 100 per cent responsible for ensuring that any such exchange on social media adheres to the standards of common decency, let alone the Code of Conduct for Elected Representatives,” James wrote.
In an interview Thursday James said he doesn’t blame Darling for the comments, but as page administrator, Darling “should be removing some of the comments.”
“(Darling) was the administrator of the site, he did nothing to tell the people to back off, this is getting a bit too personal … and certainly the threat of intimidation and physical violence is unacceptable,” he said.
“So why didn’t he stop it at that point? Why has he left disgusting comments on the web page for 14 days when he has the power to take them off?”
When asked about the letter Darling said he had yet to see it and would have no comment until after council meets on Monday.
“Basically what we’re being told is we have no right as citizens to speak out against this mayor and common council – that we’re expected to just tow the line and follow whatever they want to do and let them get on with it,” James said.
“In a democracy it is our right. We’re not expected just to vote, we’re expected to hold government to account between elections and that’s what we’re doing.”
A separate letter also penned by James asks that David Merrithew be reprimanded by council due to comments made on the same post.
“This guy and his small group of cronies are not creditable,” Merrithew wrote in reference to Goodwin and the Coalition. “They say they will run in the next election. God forbid. Just key board[sic] courage.”
James says that Merrithew violated Article 8.1 of the code of conduct that states “members of council shall treat every person, including other members of council, City employees and the public with dignity and respect.”
“Again, mocking and disparaging citizens because they choose to express their political views and help educate others on matters of public interest through their written commentary, can hardly be described as dignified and respectful conduct,” James wrote.
Merrithew declined to comment on the letter.
The Saint John Citizens Coalition has said they will be running candidates in the next municipal election in 2020. Randall Goodwin says he started the group after becoming disillusioned with Darling’s performance about five months into his mandate.
Darling has brushed aside criticism from the group in the past, saying that the attacks are personal. Goodwin, who says he worked on Darling’s mayoral campaign, says the group is simply trying to fight for the interests of citizens.
“It’s nothing personal. It’s not a personal attack against Don Darling nor this council. It’s about the accountability of our tax dollars,” Goodwin said.
“We elect 10 representatives as our councillors to represent the citizens of the city of Saint John and that is not taking place.”