On social media, hostility flows freely and common courtesy often takes a back seat—and when the mayor of Ritchot locks horns on Facebook, some residents take umbrage.

On May 27, Mayor Chris Ewen went head-to-head with one individual, Daniel Collins, who chose to personally confront Ewen on Facebook Messenger. Ewen took that conversation to the next level by posting the private messages for all to see.

Ewen’s opening message to the public was clear: “Just a reminder to people that if you ask kindly, I will help find a solution. If you act like this, I will still find a solution, but you’ll also get what you need to hear.”

He closed with a plea for kindness in people’s approach to airing grievances with the RM.

In fairness to Ewen, Collins’s outreach was anything but kind.

As a Winnipeg resident who travels to Ste. Agathe for work on a daily basis, Collins was tired of the poor conditions along Industrial Park Road, conditions that he described to Ewen as abysmal and worse than those he used to drive when he was in Afghanistan.

Ewen responded quickly, conveying appreciation to Collins for reaching out.

But Collins persisted.

“I’d appreciate you getting gravel onto the road,” Collins said. “I know you won’t because of how important you are, not being able to mingle with the peasants and all from your ivory tower.”

Collins proceeded to suggest that the mayor either apply gravel to the road himself or have a sign posted on the road reading “Can’t be bothered.”

Ewen replied again, assuring Collins that he’d forward the request to the public works department.

Then he took some shots of his own.

“Next time, be kind,” Ewen wrote. “It goes a long way. Acting like a pathetic loser on here gets you nowhere.”

The altercation continued, with Collins making allusions to Ewen’s next election campaign and Ewen suggesting that Collins suffered from “little man syndrome.”

After Ewen posted the conversation in public, reactions began to pour in. Some supported Ewen’s tell-it-like-it-is attitude. Others were appalled, first at Ewen’s choice of words and then in his decision to share the private exchange with the public.

One resident, who asked The Citizen for anonymity, was so put off by the brazen display that she immediately sent a complaint to the RM office.

She received a message back from the mayor. Due to the kind of regular and ongoing verbal abuse he receives, Ewen says that not only will he continue to share such messages in public, but he also won’t hesitate to share them with the sender’s employer if they happen to work in the RM.

Another resident, Shannon Carten, acknowledged Ewen’s right to be angry. She also pointed out the hypocrisy of asking the public for kindness when he himself was acting unkindly.

More than anything, Carten was disturbed at Ewen’s decision to turn this into a public spectacle.

“You would like to think that if you’re contacting the RM for anything that there won’t be a threat of being publicly shamed over it,” Carten told The Citizen. “[Collins] wasn’t exactly kind, but I think the response [he received] was more than it should have been.”

Reaching out to the RM, Carten says, she was forwarded a copy of the municipality’s code of conduct. Based on its wording, she says, the mayor was in breach of it.

“To me it just seems very unprofessional,” Carten says. “I work with the public too, and if I pulled this I’d be fired in a heartbeat.”

At the very least, Carten is hopeful that council can learn from this situation and implement a social media use policy to prevent it from happening again.

Collins Responds

As for Collins, he says he never expected things to escalate as they did when he reached out to the mayor in a private message.

“I didn’t expect a response at all,” Collins says. “Where I grew up, you message your politicians and they never get back to you. I just kind of sent the message thinking at least I got that out of my system.”

He admits to sending the message to Ewen out of frustration after spending $5,600 in repairs to his vehicle’s suspension due to the conditions along Industrial Park Road.

He agrees that his tone came across as “prickly,” but in his opinion he was undeserving of the response he got. As a regular person, Collins says, the same code of conduct doesn’t apply to him as it would to someone in a position of authority.

“I think anything, outside of wishing a politician harm or death, is acceptable,” he says, “because it’s your right to [air a grievance] with the government.”

Collins says his first point of action after the confrontation was to reach out to the RM office in an effort to arrange for a delegation with council at their next meeting.

His goal, he says, was to recommend that the mayor and the head of the public works department meet with him on Industrial Park Road for a photo op and a handshake in order to indicate to the public that more amicable relations have been reached.

“I think what is needed right now is some healing with the community, because this is no longer just about me and the mayor,” Collins says.

Collins says that his request of the RM was declined. Since then, he’s sent letters of complaint to MLA Ron Schuler and the Minister of Municipal Relations, Ian Bushie.

At the point of this writing, Collins had not received a response from either party.

CAO and Mayor Respond

When The Citizen reached out to the municipal office for comment, CAO Mitch Duval responded with a copy of the municipality’s code of conduct bylaw.

The code states: “The council has a duty to consider the well-being and best interests of the municipality as a whole. All members must conduct themselves in such a way as to promote public trust and public confidence in the council and the municipality.”

Duval explains the RM’s take on the code.

“In 2020, the province of Manitoba mandated all municipalities and their councils to pass a code of conduct for councillors,” Duval said. “A template was provided by the province, which Ritchot adopted. A member of council can initiate a complaint against another member of council. No complaints have been initiated against the mayor.”

Duval went on to add that constructive discussions are underway with Ewen and that the contentious Facebook posts have been removed. As well, conversations are taking place with public works and Collins in order to address the road concerns that were shared.

Mayor Ewen chose to provide a brief response of this own.

“As elected officials, we are constantly criticized, which is frustrating when we are all working hard for residents and doing our best,” Ewen says. “The negative messages we receive definitely take a toll, and while I do my best to keep my cool, comments sometimes hit a nerve. I am happy to be working with the individual and public works to try to resolve his road concerns.”

By Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 03, 2024 at 13:03

This item reprinted with permission from   The Citizen   Niverville, Manitoba
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