Heated passions over a planned new Gateway sign last week may have spilled over into full-blown harassment, as Tourism and Economic Development director Jackie Challis told Inuvik Town council she was subject to several verbal attacks both online and in person.
Social media in Inuvik exploded following a July 4 CBC article where Inuvik-born artist Ron English criticized the town’s decision to outsource the Gateway Sign design to Fathom Studio, a Nova Scotia based firm.
Challis mentioned the abuse during a July 13 Committee of the Whole meeting.
“It did turn personal,” she said. “Everything from social media, to on the street, to in the grocery store, to people yelling things as the truck goes by, to online petitions to have me let go.
“The people whose opinions I care about are the people in this community. I work hard to try and do the best that I can for the residents and artists living in the Beaufort Delta and Inuvik, and I have from the beginning. It shouldn’t be personal, it shouldn’t be about me. It’s about us as an organization.
“The ironic part is my name is attached to the sign, but if you actually look at the work being done, there’s other departments doing quite a bit of work towards this.”
Senior Administrative Officer Grant Hood said he was proud of the work Challis and other town staff did with the sign and said she did her due diligence and added the public was not meeting the town halfway with its efforts to communicate.
“I need to emphasize the number of times where the public had the opportunity to have input,” he said. “I fully support what director Challis has done and the effort she’s put in on this. I agree 100 per cent it’s unfair the way she’s been treated.
“If people do have issues, then contact me. That’s what I’m here for.”
Town Council stands by Challis
Calling the treatment put towards Challis “shameful,” councillors voiced their support for her and her work.
“Director Challis should not be taking ownership of this at all,” said deputy mayor Paul MacDonald. “It is a council decision. We directed (her) to move forward with this. Although there were some councillors that weren’t totally in favour of it, we as a group made a decision.
“There should be no negative comments towards her. They should come towards the councillors and Mayor and we move from there. That is not fair for her or her department or her staff or other staff in the Inuvik Town Office to take any heat from us.”
Coun. Ray Solotki said the town needs to examine how it communicates with residents and the types of messages it is presenting, as the backlash showed there was a significant amount of people who were unhappy with the direction the town is going.
“There are a lot of upset people and we are here as representation of the town,” she said. “Instead of just saying, ‘Okay, Jackie did a great job’ — (which I do think, but) there are people who are upset, so it’s time we look at ‘what are we missing?’ I think all of us have had a lot of different comments from both sides, but I really think we need to look forward as to how we fix this so it doesn’t happen again in the future.”
Noting that for all the commentary online town council had received only one letter in regards to the sign, Coun. Steve Baryluk said residents who chose to voice their opinions on social media and not using proper channels to communicate with the town.
“Treatment of town staff was completely unacceptable and frankly shameful,” he said. “I don’t govern based on social media comments.”