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Steady Brook mayor's use of town email sparks policy discussion

Thistle
Thistle - Star file photo

The Town of Steady Brook is going to develop a new policy regarding use of the town’s email address after its mayor drew some criticism earlier this week.

On Monday, the town clerk sent out an email to all residents on its mailing list via townofsteadybrook@gmail.com on behalf of Mayor Donna Thistle and her family.

The purpose of the email was to let all Steady Brook residents know there was going to be an estate sale of property belonging to Thistle’s parents.

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Her father, Don Thistle, was a member of the first town council in Steady Brook 65 years ago. The message was signed off by the mayor and two of her sisters.

The Thistles invited the town’s residents to have the first opportunity to buy any of the household goods and furniture available before opening the estate sale to the general public.

The email did not sit well with resident Justin McCarthy, who claimed Thistle’s use of the town’s email was a misuse of public resources for her family’s benefit. He said the email should only be used to provide residents with information such as water outages, boil water advisories, road closures and the like.

If proceeds from the Thistle sale were going to charity or to the town, McCarthy said it would have been justified.

“She and her sisters are selling off assets of their parents’ home and will pocket the money, and are benefitting from getting this shout-out for people to come," said McCarthy, a mayoral candidate against Thistle in last September’s municipal election. McCarthy went so far as to call it an abuse of power.

Thistle, who sent out an apology Tuesday to anyone who thought the estate sale email was inappropriate, took exception to McCarthy’s allegation of having abused her position as mayor.

She said she canvassed all of town council and the town manager prior to asking the clerk to send the email and said she received no opposition to the idea.

The issue did end up on the agenda for a public town council meeting Thursday. The discussion centred around what constitutes an appropriate use of the town’s email and council agreed it will look into developing a policy that will specify what the town’s email can or cannot be used for.

“The bigger discussion about what we should use the email for is a conversation that should happen and will happen,” said Thistle. “But I didn’t abuse my power. The abuse of power would be if I forced someone to do something and I didn’t ask.”

Thistle said the council will meet in-committee to work out details of the policy before bringing it forward to a public meeting.

McCarthy has also expressed his concerns to the provincial government and to federal MP Gudie Hutchings.

In a response provided to him by the Department of Municipal Affairs, the provincial department indicated the Municipalities Act does not address the use of social media or email by a municipal council member and the department has no authority to intervene.

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