Do you need to be more careful about emailing anyone at Vision City Hall?
Imagine the following. A concerned citizen emails former Premier and MLA Gordon Campbell last year with a question about support for daycare in his Vancouver-Point Grey riding. Then some weeks later that same concerned citizen receives a response back, something like this:
"Thanks for your letter about daycare to Premier Gordon Campbell. The Premier is following up on the matter, and furthermore if you want to know the many ways Gordon Campbell is serving your interests you can sign up for his email list."
That hypothetical scenario didn't happen, but one can only imagine the grief it would have caused Campbell had his office done that. However, did you know the exact same practice is now occurring at the City of Vancouver Mayor's office? If you send a communication to Gregor Robertson about any number of issues, your message is vetted by a staff person based upon the subject, and you are sent the following response back:
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Subject: A newsletter invitation from the Vancouver Mayor's Office.
We are contacting you because we received your email to the Vancouver Mayor’s Office regarding [INSERT ISSUE HERE].
Mayor Robertson has been working hard to provide you with new ways to hear about the issues as they happen, and how to get involved and be heard. We’d like to invite you to join our bi-weekly newsletter so that we can keep you informed about the topics you care about and upcoming public engagement initiatives.
Click Here to Sign Up: Sign Up Form for Vancouver Mayor’s Office Newsletter.
Vancouver Mayor’s Office
I've received several emails from people asking me, what the heck is this? They tell me that they wrote the Mayor about a re-zoning, or the casino, or some local issue that was important to them. One person I talked to said she got a runaround after she emailed Robertson, receiving only auto-replies that said the Mayor was very busy and to contact his assistant. After she emailed that assistant another auto-reply came saying pretty much the same thing: "we'll get back to you."
They never did get back to this person regarding her question, but then she got the above message to subscribe to Gregor's list. "It must be an election year," she quipped to me.
I'm familiar with the protocol that the Mayor's office used to have, and what many MLA & MP's offices practice here in Vancouver. There is a clear line drawn between governing and politicking. Smart constituency office workers know that you don't allow your office to become political, unless you want to lose your job and embarrass your MLA or MP.
Under the newly politicized Vision City Hall, I confess that I'm not at all surprised by this turn of events. Mike Magee and Kevin Quinlan while sitting at their desks in City Hall regularly send out political jabs and put-downs on Suzanne Anton and the NPA over Twitter. If a Minister's assistant were to behave that way and tweet out opposition attacks in Victoria, they would be promptly fired. Mayor Gregor either couldn't care less what his attack dogs are up to, or he can't control them. I suspect it's the latter.
For the uninitiated, in order for the OIPC to investigate, a complaint would have to be first filed to the City of Vancouver. That complaint to the City would go to: Barbara Van Fraassen, Manager, Corporate Information and Privacy, and emailed email@example.com. If a satisfactory response is not received within thirty business days then a formal complaint to the Provincial Privacy Commissioner can be made.
So what are the implications of this decision, which most likely has been approved by the city manager?
Technically, it now means that anyone who contacts the City of Vancouver – whether it is to raise a concern about a zoning, or to complain about a neighbour's dog crapping on their front lawn – can be in return pitched to sign up for a pro-Vancouver marketing campaign.
Want to sound off to the Director of Permits and Licenses? No problem. Sign up for Will Johnston's monthly newsletter. Got issues with a new zoning? Sign up for the Brent Toderian Report. And so on.
As for the list that the Mayor's office is building, surely this list should be available for use by ALL city councillors? By signing up for Mayor Gregor's list why shouldn't David Cadman, Tim Stevenson or (god forbid) Suzanne Anton be allowed to send out their own e-blast to these subscribers? They are on that list because they were concerned about a decision by council, were they not?
If you are someone who is unhappy to have received one of these emails from the Mayor's office, I recommend that you take it up with Ms. Van Fraassen's office. But remember, by doing so you might now get asked to sign up for the Freedom of Information Policy monthly newsletter.
- Post by Mike Klassen. Mike is a city council candidate for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA). If you're an elected official or candidate seeking a nomination and want to write about urban issues, please send your 450-500 word submission to CityCaucus@gmail.com.