A White Rock city councillor is calling for a “detailed explanation” from staff regarding emails from five Peninsula residents that were blocked from being delivered to council and staff last month.
However, Mayor Wayne Baldwin – whose request to city staff to no longer receive emails from the senders resulted in the block – said Monday it was “time to end this silliness and move on.”
Coun. Helen Fathers tabled a notice of motion Monday, requesting that council “instruct staff to provide a detailed explanation of events leading up to the incident and subsequent reporting of it.”
She also requested that staff examine policies on the decision-making process between council and staff.
Fathers’ motion stemmed from events that took place over the May long weekend, when Baldwin asked the city’s information-technology manager on May 20 to block five individuals.
The following day, the five began receiving failed-delivery notifications when they tried to send messages to council or city staff.
The issue came as news to other members of council, who told Peace Arch News they had not authorized the blocking.
When contacted for comment May 23, Baldwin replied via email and said only that the situation had been resolved. Two days later, he told PAN he had sent the request and had only intended the senders be blocked from his own email account, not the city’s entire server.
Following Fathers’ motion, Baldwin reiterated that the block was a “mistake” due to a “miscommunication,” noting it was rectified that same weekend.
“The relentless barrage of emails from these individuals over the past two years is taking my time away from serving the rest of the constituents and from the overall governance of the city,” Baldwin said, reading from a prepared statement. “Combined with other social-media messaging from these individuals, it constitutes cyber bullying, and I do not need or want to read it.”
Baldwin described the content of recent emails from the individuals regarding the city’s handling of the May 15 Five Corners fire as “inappropriate,” and that they “attempted to capitalize on someone else’s misfortune to make a political point.”
The five email senders named by the mayor last week maintain their correspondence does not constitute abuse or bullying, and they called for a third-party investigation.
PAN received from city staff this week redacted copies of the emails Baldwin said prompted him to seek out the block. The five provided were comments on the fire, including one asking why the city hadn’t offered free bottled water to residents in light of the boil-water advisory; another describing the water utility as “woefully lacking” and the city’s purchase of the utility as a “political black eye”; and another calling on the mayor to “man up… and take responsibility” for the city’s water capacity.
The last email – sent at 9:57 a.m. May 20 – asked: “Is it true that the original building that was under construction which burned and started the fire was coated with a special liquid applied coating for water proofing that may have acted as a fire accelerant? I have heard this from several people.”
Baldwin responded at 6:16 p.m. – 16 minutes before sending the block request to the IT manager – writing: “Seriously, where do you come up with this stuff? Why don’t you ask the owner if he wanted to see his project go up in flames? This is a thoughtless, insensitive question/comment in the midst of this tragic event and the heroic efforts of our staff. Give your head a shake.”
Another of the emails was read aloud in council chambers Monday by Coun. Lynne Sinclair, following fire Chief Phil Lemire’s presentation about the fire.
Sinclair said she and the rest of council were sent the email at 11 a.m. the day of the fire, while crews were still fighting it.
The email stated Surrey fire department was first on the scene, that White Rock fire had “no manpower,” that the Surrey battalion chief was “running the show” and that White Rock didn’t deploy its “new big money truck” until 8 a.m. – all points that Lemire responded were untrue.
“The energy that very few put into really trying to find negatives where there were a lot of positives was unfortunate,” Sinclair said after reading the email. “I think the questions need to be asked, always, but at a time and place when it’s appropriate.”
The residents whose emails were blocked said there was nothing inappropriate about the questions they were asking.
Erika Johanson told PAN last week that she believes Baldwin’s reaction “proves that he is not interested in public opinion at all,” noting she is careful to keep her emails “short, to the point and without derogatory comments.”
Ross Buchanan said in an email that he doesn’t recall sending Baldwin anything “in the last six months,” noting prior to that, he sent “simple questions about policy issues in White Rock.”
“All I ever got back was snarly responses, so my focus has been asking questions through the FOI process, the OIPC and the Ombudsperson,” Buchanan said.
Roderick Louis, who on Monday presented Baldwin with a signed authorization for the city to release emails sent by him to PAN and other media – said the content of his correspondence is “neutral, merely… commenting on and posing questions” on several city matters.
“My emails to the mayor might be deemed cyber abuse in a monarchical dictatorship such as North Korea’s,” Louis said in an email. “But in today’s equitable human-rights constitutional democracy Canada, the mayor’s views and his actions have no place and serve no purpose other than furthering his own self interest.”
Fathers’ motion to have staff report back on the matter will be on council’s June 13 agenda, where it will need a majority vote to move forward.