City councillor reprimanded for social media comments

Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha -- Herald file photo.

Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha has been removed from all city boards and committees, suspended from speaking at public events as a city council representative for one year, and ordered to make a public apology after breaching sections nine and 10 of Prince Albert’s ethics bylaw.

Prince Albert city council met in camera to discuss the matter on April 9, and confirmed the decision to sanction Botha with a 5-1 vote on Monday. Botha and Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick declined to vote due to conflict of interest.

A complaint launched in early April alleged that Botha violated the ethics bylaw with two posts made on social media during a Prince Albert Raiders hockey game. Both posts have been removed since then.

Botha declined to comment following the meeting, but did release a statement on Tuesday.

“In the light of the decision made at last night’s city council meeting, I am ready to move forward,” Botha’s statement read. “I will continue to serve the constituents of Ward 3 and represent them to the best of my ability, along with the residents and businesses in the City of Prince Albert. There are several causes that have become very important to me, to which I remain steadfast in my commitment. In the coming weeks I will issue the formal apology as per the decision made last night, and commit myself to working towards reconciliation with my fellow member of council, and council as a whole.”

Copies of both posts were made available to the Daily Herald. Both criticize the choice of songs played during stoppages at a Raiders game. The first read, “Sweet Caroline? This DJ needs to get laid.” The second read, “Who plays soppy horse music at a hockey game? #GetADJ!”

Prior to Monday’s meeting, Botha requested that the matter be adjourned to a later meeting until council could read correspondence from his lawyer. Botha said the one-year ban on speaking as a city representative was a violation of freedom of speech, and expressed concerns about the report presented to council, which he said is “perceived as being one-sided.” City council rejected the request by a 5-4 margin.

After the meeting, Mayor Greg Dionne called it a “privilege” to speak as a city representative, and denied any free-speech rights were being violated. Dionne added that the move was unprecedented for the city, but said he didn’t think it would cause any problems going forward.

“I don’t see this effecting us. I still believe he (Botha) can be effective on council and that we can move things forward, so the ball is in his (court) to show himself in the next year and move on,” Dionne said. “That’s what it’s about. Apologize and move on.”

Dionne said many Prince Albert residents were aware of the comments, with three or four taking screen shots and sending them to the Mayor’s office to make sure he knew about them. He added that the experience served as a reminder for city politicians to be more respectful on social media.

“All the politicians who got in trouble, when you (hear) the news, what is it all about? Social media. People just seem to have to get their (opinions) out there,” he said.

Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick, who also serves as a Raiders’ game-day DJ, excused himself from Monday’s vote, and also declined to comment afterwards.

“It’s not about me,” Ogrodnick said. “It’s about the code of ethics.”

Section nine of the ethics code requires all councillors to “treat every person, including other members, municipal employees and the public with dignity, understanding and respect.” Section ten prohibits councillors from “engaging in discrimination, bullying, or harassment in their roles as members,” as well as the use of derogatory language towards others.

The name of the complainant was not made public. Both the complainant and Botha were invited to submit oral and written statements to the executive committee in the lead up to Monday’s vote.

@kerr_jas •