By Sean Meyer/London Community News
There may not be anything about it in the city’s bylaws, but a member of council is being taken to task by those who feel she had no right to contact someone’s employer over comments made on a public blog.
Ward 14 Councillor Sandy White has been criticized for contacting the past and present employer of London resident Sean Quigley after he criticized a decision made by city council during its recent budget deliberations on his blog.
White said she was unaware of his comments until members of the public contacted her and expressed concerns about what they told her had been written in the blog. At that point, based on third-party hearsay, White said she was unsure whether Quigley was speaking for himself or on behalf of his past or present employers, both local non-profit agencies.
White emailed Quigley looking for further clarification. That email was later posted on Quigley’s blog. When she didn't hear back from him, White said she placed the two phone calls.
“I, in no way, shape, or form interfered with that man’s employment,” White told London Community News when contacted about the controversy. “I noticed that a constituency group, a community group, was mentioned and that concerned me. When that happens, I am going to ask about those concerns.”
White said she felt she had the right to get “further clarification” about Quigley’s comments in terms of whether they represented his own opinion or those of the two agencies. And after doing so, White said she received the answers she was looking for and considered it “a done issue.”
Glen Pearson is one London resident who doesn’t believe the issue is as simple as White would suggest. Pearson, a former MP for London North-Centre and the co-director of the London Food Bank, said he believes this issue highlights a specific fear felt by the city’s non-profit community for many years.
Pearson said there has been “a quiet understanding” by many non-profit groups that if they speak out on issues, they could lose out on future municipal funding, which many of them rely upon. While there's no suggestion anything like that happened or was even implied in this case, Pearson is worried about the overall public perception.
“When she brings in those other two agencies, that makes people nervous. Nervous that if people are going to start speaking up, they will be hurt when it comes to funding,” Pearson said. “I think that is a very solid issue. I think that is a thing to be worried about. And to be honest with you, it isn’t the sort of thing councillors should be engaged in.”
“I think she handled that improperly. In this case, it is something that could have been handled with a phone call to Sean.”
This debate generated considerable traffic on both Facebook and Twitter over the weekend. For those looking to make her actions into a larger story, White said she wouldn’t “engage in that kind of negativity,” but would talk directly with individuals. “If they call me personally, and they want to talk to me about it in a respectful manner, I will talk about it. But I will not engage in negativity on a social media network.”
White did say she had been contacted directly by members of the public and spoke with them further.
“We had good conversations about it. Hardy conversations,” White said. “Some people have contacted me and I’ve had open and some good conversations about it. That should be that.”
Quigley said he does not wish to make further statements on the issue. However, a follow-up posting to his blog does emphasize the position that his comments were never intended to represent anyone's but his own.
“The problem becomes when this happens it has a chilling effect on free speech and citizen engagement,” Quigley wrote on his blog.