For his and wife Valerie’s Facebook post drawing parallels to a local tragedy, Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan has again raised public criticism for his social media presence.
The post in question was “not put up to cause any emotional suffering to anyone,” Kirwan said by emailed correspondence to Sudbury.com on Monday.
“At no time did we ever imagine that the post would offend anyone or we would never have put it up. As soon as we heard that it was of concern to the family, we took it down.”
During the weekend, the “Robert and Valerie Kirwan” account shared a Sudbury Star story on the Valley East group Facebook page titled “‘Revenge fantasy’ led to Sudbury teen’s killing.”
The story, published Sept. 16, centred on the sentencing of Steffin Rees for the 2019 killing of Preston Pellerin. As Sudbury.com reported, Rees was sentenced to 15 years with no chance of parole for 7.5 years after pleading guilty to manslaughter in Pellerin’s death.
Accompanying the Kirwan couple’s post linking the story was a message that began, “This is what can happen when people get into angry exchanges on Facebook or any other form of social media. It is why we are so strict in enforcing our group st…(sic)”
Although a screenshot of the original post, which was shared to the Greater Sudbury Politics page on Facebook, was cut off mid-word it was enough to draw public scorn, with 77 largely critical comments appearing under the post.
“What is wrong with this man? This is in terrible taste,” one commenter wrote, perhaps best highlighting the overall tone of commenters.
“I feel so sorry for this family I cannot believe someone who is supposed to be a ‘leader’ would use someone’s tragic story and twist it for their own pathetic excuses of group rules!” another commenter wrote.
In response to Robert and Valerie Kirwan’s original post, a screenshot of a post by Pellerin’s mother, Courtney, notes, “My sons murder had nothing to do with Facebook messages.”
In his email to Sudbury.com, Kirwan explained that the post in question was intended as a “reminder to our members about the need to communicate with respect on our site and to control their anger.”
This message needs to be repeated regularly, he added, “because of the angry exchanges that occur on the site from time to time.”
Although he was unaware Monday of his colleague’s latest social media activity, Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti said after being relayed the highlights that it was unfortunate city council was facing more negative attention.
“We’re getting all painted with the same brush because of a councillor who decides to go and do things and not understand the ramifications for their actions,” he said. “A severe punishment needs to happen.”
During last week’s city council meeting in which Kirwan was reprimanded, Signoretti was the most outspoken member of council, criticizing Kirwan for employing “standards for integrity, accountability and transparency … far below what’s set out in the code.”
Although the city’s Code of Conduct outlines several requirements of the city’s elected officials that could be applied to social media, its only social media-specific section reads:
17. Every Member shall:
(a) adhere to any and all City policies and guidelines, regarding social media use; and
(b) always identify themselves without any attempt to cover, disguise or mislead as to their identity or status as an elected representative of the City when using social media.
By Monday afternoon’s deadline, the City of Greater Sudbury’s communications staff was unable to clarify whether any additional social media policies might apply to mayor and council.
“We really need to watch what we post and what we put out into the public,” Signoretti said, adding that he plans on bringing a motion to council so that a policy specific to social media be put into place if one is not already on the books.
It’s unfortunate that situations like this keep coming up, he said, pointing blame at Mayor Brian Bigger for allowing things to get to this point.
The head of council should be “directing and guiding … so they don’t get to this stage, but it’s unfortunate it hasn’t occurred.”
In response to a potential review of the city’s social media policies, Kirwan said he would “welcome the opportunity to look at a practical approach to social media communications as it applies to Councillors.”
The Valley East page is moderated by a few accounts of Robert and Valerie Kirwan, which includes an account ascribed to “Jessie Timmons,” which Kirwan has admitted his wife uses to moderate and post on the Valley East Facebook page they both moderate.
Last week, council voted to reprimand Kirwan over his involvement in the fake account, which city integrity commissioner Robert Swayze said Kirwan used to “collude with his wife” to contravene the city’s code of conduct, which prohibits “any attempt to cover, disguise or mislead as their identity or status as an elected representative of the City when using social media.”
Prior to this month’s Jessie Timmons situation, Kirwan last faced public ridicule for banning hundreds of users from his Valley East page for using crying laughing emojis.
Messages left with Bigger’s office were not returned by the end of day Monday.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.