Guest Column

In Service to My Constituents

I consider it my duty and obligation as an elected official to use the most effective and efficient means of communication available to me

By Ryan Hunter

In last week’s Op-Ed, Tammi Fisher addressed concerns about my social media use as an elected official on the Kalispell City Council. Despite such misgivings, I consider it my duty and obligation as an elected official to use the most effective and efficient means of communication available to me to inform the public about what is happening at city council, to be transparent about my actions on council, and to share my personal thoughts and opinions about city issues. I am careful to ensure that my social media posts are professional, respectful and as factually accurate as possible given the information available to me. I am confident that my social media use is lawful and appropriate.

While social media is the newest form of communication, it is little different from other forms of communication with regards to the concerns Ms. Fisher expressed. The mayor has regular radio interviews, other council members have published letters to the editor, and we all should be having regular individual conversations with our constituents. While some people may not use Facebook, others may not listen to the radio station an interview was broadcast on, or read the paper a letter to the editor was published in. All of these avenues of communication do not allow for immediate and direct responses from other council members who may disagree with what was said. But we all have the same means of communication available to us if we wish to share our own differing perspectives. Better yet, if there is real concern about something specific that was said, any member of council can just pick up the phone and have a conversation with their fellow council member about it and come to some resolution. 

Ms. Fisher takes issue with the fact that, in discussing an ordinance that would allow for garage apartments or backyard cottages in some parts of the city, I pointed out on social media that I had originally proposed the idea to council. I have thanked staff for their work on the ordinance at council meetings and I have thanked on social media my fellow council members who have supported the ordinance. When I ran for election to the city council, however, I ran on a promise to work to increase affordable housing in our community that severely needs it. While perhaps I could have worded the social media post better, it baffles me that someone would take issue with me informing my constituents that I was delivering on a promise.

Likewise, Ms. Fisher takes issue with my characterizing of a decision by the mayor to call for a vote to lift this same ordinance from “the table” for consideration as a choice. A vote that failed and ended consideration of this important ordinance that had previously received strong support on council. This vote stemmed from a previous procedural mistake in which the ordinance should have been postponed, rather than tabled. It has been my understanding that the mayor could have treated the ordinance as either postponed, as intended, or tabled, as stated, and he chose to treat it as tabled in order to be consistent with past procedure. Perhaps there was little real choice in the matter, but rather than a courteous phone call with a request to change my characterization of it, I have been publicly scolded at a council meeting and subjected to Ms. Fisher’s public scorn. If you find such quibbling over the wording of a specific procedural matter silly and petty, you’re not alone. 

Finally, Ms. Fisher maliciously accuses me of selfishness because I, as an elected official, dared to acknowledge the reality of a possible future re-election campaign. I am active on social media because I see such communication as my responsibility as an elected official and as something that you, my constituents, are entitled to. But I also recognize that my constituents will have a choice to make if I run for re-election. You will have to decide whether my actions on council have served you well and whether I have acted on the promises made when you elected me. Communicating with the public so that they have the information necessary to make such assessments is not selfishness, it is fulfilling the intended purpose of our electoral process that is the foundation of our representative government. 

Ryan Hunter is a Kalispell city councilor representing Ward 3. The views he expressed are his personal opinion and not those of the City of Kalispell or the Kalispell City Council

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