Elected officials can expect criticism, and they must be prepared to deal with it. It’s essentially part of the job description. Citizens will disagree with votes and take a politician to task on issues. Managing dissent and disagreement goes with the territory.
But Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano didn’t handle that aspect of public service well in a recent response to an angry citizen. Cano, in her first term representing the Ninth Ward, has been rightly criticized for using Twitter to broadcast private contact information of some who objected to her involvement in last Wednesday’s Black Lives Matter rally at the Mall of America.
Stephen Dent, a Minneapolis resident who said he previously had supported Cano’s election campaign, e-mailed her through the city website when he learned that she had attended and supported the protest. He wrote that she was no longer fit to serve on the council because she had participated in “closing private property” and “supporting illegal actions” when she appeared at the protest.
Cano then copied and tweeted Dent’s and three other e-mails objecting to her participation in the rally to her roughly 2,000 followers. Those copied e-mails included the addresses, phone numbers and e-mails of the senders.
In a November tweet, Cano had announced that she would circulate certain e-mails or social media comments she receives. “I will publish every piece of hate-mail + sexist attack that comes my way,’’ she wrote at the time.
But in this case, Cano received four critical notes, not hateful “attacks.’’ On Tuesday, she told an editorial writer that she sent them to her Twitter followers as they came to her, with personal phone and e-mail information. She said she did that in the interest of transparency: to show that some objected to her “standing up for racial justice.’’ Cano eventually deleted the copied e-mails, but not before they went viral on the Internet and prompted a flood of truly hateful, threatening, profane tweets aimed at Cano.
“I took [the e-mails] down because I didn’t want the conversation to be about me and my actions. … It should be focused on fighting racism and social justice.’’
In resending Dent’s and others’ contact information, Cano didn’t break any privacy rules. In fact, the city’s online council contact form includes this disclaimer: “Information you provide is subject to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. This law classifies certain information as available to the public on request.”
That means City Council members can make correspondence public under Minnesota public records laws. But most don’t — especially not personal contact information. And regardless what they can do, they should not willfully distribute that kind of material, because it can only discourage citizens from communicating with their elected officials.
Dent said he plans to file an ethics complaint against the council member for posting his e-mail and cellphone number — even though most of the communications he’s received support his objections to Cano’s actions.
As a gay man, Dent said he understands discrimination and is sympathetic to the aims of Black Lives Matter. But he still doesn’t believe his council member should have participated in that particular protest, much less broadcast his private information.
The council member didn’t violate any laws. But she did exercise poor judgment.
“What she did to me and others put a huge chill on our democratic society,” Dent told a reporter last week.