The combined actions of Saanich’s current city manager and ex-mayor have added fuel to the ongoing controversy around Saanich council and the dangers of social media this week.
On New Year’s Day Frank Leonard retweeted a Saanich News’ story based on Mayor Richard Atwell’s intentions to run in the upcoming 2018 election and his speculation there could be three new members on council.
In his retweet, Leonard added the commentary “Rather Trump-like in Saanich.”
Tweeting stories about local government isn’t new for Leonard, though he rarely adds political comments. What caught the attention of Atwell and others in Saanich was that Saanich CAO Paul Thorkelsson retweeted Leonard’s tweet, comment and all, a few hours later.
And it’s the retweet that has been noticed in the already delicate Saanich political theatre.
UVic political scientist Michael Prince called it unprofessional. One Saanich councillor called it unnecessary, adding Thorkelsson should know better.
“This retweet by the CAO of a tweet by the former mayor which is critical of the present mayor is ill-advised and inappropriate,” said Prince, UVic’s Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy. “It crosses the line between a neutral pubic service and the politics of council.”
Thorkelsson’s response said the retweet was neither an endorsement or support, but rather he thought that the comment was unrelated to the article.
Leonard, who was Saanich’s mayor for 18 years until Atwell defeated him in 2014, is the chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, an appointment he’s held since May of 2015.
When asked, Atwell said the retweet by Thorkelsson didn’t bother him too much, but he was surprised to see it.
“The former mayor tweets like crazy… so I don’t think he’s really left municipal politics, he’s very much engaged in it,” Atwell said. “Is that professional for the chair of the ALC? I certainly wouldn’t expect the former mayor to come up to me and say, ‘I think you’re being Trump-like.'”