July 17, 2019

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Opinion

Mayor needs to consider #whennottotweet

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/2/2015 (1616 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Brian Bowman is no Naheed Nenshi, that's for sure.

Nenshi, the charismatic and popular Calgary mayor, was just named the winner of the 2014 World Mayor prize. The international prize was awarded by the City Mayors Foundation to the mayor who received the most nominations in relation to the size of their cities as well as the persuasiveness and conviction of testimonials received online.

Nenshi, first elected in 2010 and then re-elected resoundingly in 2013 with 74 per cent of the vote, has become the model by which most mayors are now judged. One of his nominators for the world prize wrote: "Mayor Nenshi is a rare politician who believes the best practice is to always give the public as much information as is possible. Sometimes this is big, such as the multiple daily press conferences during the flood, and other times it is much simpler, such as his frequent use of Twitter and Facebook to connect with citizens. He is also the only person with the password to those social media accounts -- so any communication under his name is actually coming from the mayor. One of his campaign promises was transparency at city hall -- so he releases the names of people/groups with whom he meets, all gifts received and all expenses."

Impressive cowboy boots! And we hope Bowman's paying attention.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/2/2015 (1616 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Brian Bowman is no Naheed Nenshi, that's for sure.

Nenshi, the charismatic and popular Calgary mayor, was just named the winner of the 2014 World Mayor prize. The international prize was awarded by the City Mayors Foundation to the mayor who received the most nominations in relation to the size of their cities as well as the persuasiveness and conviction of testimonials received online.

Nenshi, first elected in 2010 and then re-elected resoundingly in 2013 with 74 per cent of the vote, has become the model by which most mayors are now judged. One of his nominators for the world prize wrote: "Mayor Nenshi is a rare politician who believes the best practice is to always give the public as much information as is possible. Sometimes this is big, such as the multiple daily press conferences during the flood, and other times it is much simpler, such as his frequent use of Twitter and Facebook to connect with citizens. He is also the only person with the password to those social media accounts — so any communication under his name is actually coming from the mayor. One of his campaign promises was transparency at city hall — so he releases the names of people/groups with whom he meets, all gifts received and all expenses."

Impressive cowboy boots! And we hope Bowman's paying attention.

Indeed, Bowman appears to be trying to rise to the Nenshi challenge by regularly engaging with folks via Twitter and on Facebook and going beyond what former mayor Sam Katz ever did. Twitter can be a hugely effective tool for politicians. The use of these new social media platforms allows them to engage, to gain important feedback on policy direction and to humanize themselves in the minds of voters. For citizens, it allows them to talk directly to the political elite on a one-on-one basis and, if necessary, can lead to mobilization through diverse social networks to support or protest a political decision.

Nenshi became a Twitter star in June 2013, when southern Alberta was devastated by flooding of both the Elbow and the Bow rivers. According to Marketwired, Nenshi's Twitter account gained 28,261 followers in a 10-day period following the flood and tweets featuring hashtags about Nenshi (i.e., #nenshinoun, #thankyounenshi and #nap4nenshi) were at 5.2 million. During the flood, Twitter became the source of information for people in southern Alberta who needed to find out about things like road closures, temporary homeless shelters or financial assistance. Right now, Nenshi has 220,000 followers on Twitter; Bowman has about half that amount.

But here's the thing: Using Twitter should not be the go-to response you use to engage with everyone and in every situation, particularly if you're a rookie mayor who's still trying to find his way.

For example, last week Free Press reporter Aldo Santin broke the story that Bowman and his executive policy committee put together a budget that proposes closing two inner-city leisure centres, shutting down some pools and decommissioning wading pools — many in poorer neighbourhoods.

Now anyone who's got a bit of political awareness would see that this leaked bit of information could easily be a trial balloon sent up by the city to see what the reaction would be to the proposed cuts. The city could then back down from making these cuts or use them to sell a higher-than-anticipated property-tax hike. What did the city do?

Well, the mayor's office posted this passive-aggressive tweet on Saturday: "On this snowy winter day remember: only four months till June when all wading pools are open! #accurateinfo." What? How is this helpful?

If, as the mayor's office claims, the information was inaccurate, why didn't Bowman or finance chair Marty Morantz walk away from Twitter and hold a news conference clarifying the matter? Instead, Bowman appeared on his weekly radio interview on CBC on Tuesday and claimed the information regarding the closures is inaccurate. Coun. Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan) said in response, "There was nothing inaccurate about the report. Senior administration officials came to my office, along with a member of EPC and the only thing they talked about was the proposed closing of three wading pools in my ward and closing and selling the East End Cultural and Leisure Centre." Bowman was unavailable to comment to the media further on Tuesday, with his office saying he was in meetings all day.

On Wednesday morning, Bowman finally met reporters to say closing recreational facilities in the inner city was an administrative idea that was never seriously considered for implementation. Well, that doesn't make the initial story inaccurate and just makes things confusing.

There's a pattern here and part of a worrisome trend. It seems to take two or three takes before we even come close to getting a full understanding of what's going on at city hall. An early example of this was the January dust-up between Morantz and city police. Morantz questioned deputy chief Art Stannard over the WPS's 2015 budget. Bowman was forced to appear with police Chief Devon Clunis days later to demonstrate support for the police service and to clarify that the reporting lines between council, police and the police board have been spelled out.

And let's not forget about the he-said/he-said story involving True North CEO Mark Chipman.

Again, Bowman relied on Twitter to send out an olive branch after Chipman held a news conference to shred Bowman's version of events on a property deal between CentreVenture and True North.

Something tells me even Nenshi, the mayor who as of yesterday has sent out more than 35,200 tweets, would never use this device for such a serious matter.

It's clear Bowman sees Nenshi as a political role model and is trying to emulate both the Calgary mayor and his office in using new social media to really connect with Winnipeggers. And on things like snow removal, road closures and cheerful selfies at public events, it's great to see. But on serious stuff like clearing up confusion regarding closures of city pools and rec centres in the city's poorest neighborhoods or healing a rift on a possible $400-million deal, you have to go old school and meet face to face. Even when you don't want to.


Shannon Sampert is the Free Press perspectives and politics editor.

Shannon.sampert@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulySigh

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