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Saint John Citizens Coalition asks mayor Darling be investigated for code of conduct violations

Click to play video: 'Saint John group alleging Facebook comments made by mayor Don Darling violates code of conduct'
Saint John group alleging Facebook comments made by mayor Don Darling violates code of conduct
WATCH: The Saint John Citizens Coalition sent a letter to the minister of local government last week. As Silas Brown reports, the letter details what they believe constitutes online bullying and harassment by the mayor – Aug 8, 2019

A Saint John group alleging mayor Don Darling has committed code of conduct violations say they will be making a “significant” submission to council for an upcoming meeting.

This will be the third letter sent to government by the Saint John Citizens Coalition over the last few weeks.

The group initially sent a letter to common council with a list of 13 questions asking if Darling was using city resources for his blog GrowSJ, which was quickly followed up with a letter to the minister responsible for local government to check on code of conduct policy.

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In a post online Darling shared the initial letter and admitted that some city resources were being used for what he calls a “brand that was created during my campaign … to present a vision for a growing and thriving Saint John,” but denied that he was violating council’s new code of conduct by doing so.

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But in another letter to Jeff Carr, the minister responsible for local government, the group says Darling further violated the code in the preamble to his online response, saying that “he publicly criticized the Saint John Citizens Coalition, demeaning citizens in the eyes of the public by suggesting they are just ‘4 people’ with a bone to pick” and has “publicly humiliated people on various occasions.”

The letter, written by coalition member Douglas James goes on to say that Darling’s behaviour is 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.”

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The letter goes on to mention that Darling has blocked citizens from his Facebook page that James argues effectively “serves as a public forum in his role as mayor.”

He goes on to suggest that this is a violation of article 3.7 of the code of conduct that stipulates that elected officials cannot refuse to interact with someone based on any grounds listed in the human rights act.

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Being that the Facebook page is Darling’s primary way of communication with citizens James believes that those blocked are being discriminated against due to their political opinions.

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All this is prefaced by a request that the minister investigate these alleged code of conduct violations.

In a statement on Friday Erika Jutras, a spokesperson with the department of environment and local government, said that the minister is not responsible for enforcing city council code of conduct violations.

“The province requires local governments to have a code of conduct bylaw but does not approve those bylaws,” she wrote.

“The bylaws are approved by council in accordance with the provincial regulation and include how the council will administer the regulation and deal with complaints of potential violations.”

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Coalition member Randall Goodwin says that the intent of the letter was to find out what the policy for code of conduct violations is and says the group has penned another letter to be submitted to council next week.

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When asked about the allegations last week Darling said that they are distracting from the bigger issues the city is facing, such as the ongoing “new deal” negotiations with the province.

“Frankly, I don’t agree,” he said.

“I’m not going to be distracted away from talking about $10 to $12 million gaps and about a thriving, growing future for the city and frankly overwhelmingly the citizens of the city don’t want me distracted.”

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