Councillors plead for end to criticisms on social media

Councillor Mary-Jean Devon has handed in her resignation to the council after 15 years of service

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‘Scathing’ comments, ‘false’ statements and ‘personal attacks’ on councillors in Oban, Lorn and the Isles are being made on social media – and they want it to stop.
On the last two occasions councillors have met in Oban there have been discussions about members of the public who are quick to criticise councillors online.
Councillor Mary-Jean Devon explained: ‘We have an open-door policy for listening to what people have to say. In the case of the Soroba bins, I saw matters were being discussed on social media but the first representation I had about issues was from resident Sheila Brown in February [the three-weekly bin collection started in November]. The only other way I have known there is a real issue in Soroba is by coming across comments on Facebook.
‘In one instance, there were 61 comments about what can be done in Soroba and I had, at that time, only received one letter. As soon as I received that letter I set up a meeting with everyone involved in Soroba – ACHA, council officers, the residents’ association. It is difficult to change anything if no one contacts us. Sheila’s letter led to direct action.’
Of the 61 online comments, some included questions to councillors as well as inflammatory comments about individuals, including personal attacks about lack of political support for residents in Soroba and beyond. There were also people writing under the names of councillors criticising colleagues.
Mrs Devon continued: ‘Perhaps it would be much fairer if people sought to speak to their elected members about issues before making statements on Facebook that are misleading.’
Marri Malloy, chairwoman of Oban Community Council, added: ‘We tried to give people an opportunity to speak about problems in Soroba and set up  a meeting. We had asked people to come along and speak to us about the rats, the bins or any other concerns that they might have but not one person turned up.
‘It is very important for people to have their say in a forum where something can be done. That will not happen on Facebook.’
Councillor Roddy McCuish addressed the public at the area committee meeting held last week on the same issue.
He said: ‘The people of Soroba will know the solution to the bin problem themselves. We know that but we would like an opportunity [to help] before we are condemned.’
When asked about what sanctions were placed on opposition councillors criticising colleagues, Mr McCuish said: ‘There is nothing we can do. There is a whip system for people in political parties but otherwise we cannot do anything.’
Soroba resident Sheila Brown said: ‘I learned a valuable lesson concerning the bins situation in Soroba. If you have any concerns or complaints that you want to raise with Argyll and Bute Council, ACHA or your councillors, put it in writing – whether it’s snail mail or email, don’t rely on phone calls.’