“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
That’s how Princeton’s CAO Cheryl Martens, who has spent a lifetime in municipal government and has run elections for the past 20 years, sums up what is happening in Princeton.
The election turned nasty for Martens two weeks ago, when several people took to social media with personal attacks.
One resident made numerous posts accusing the town’s top administrator of promoting members of council for re-election and covering up alleged wrong doing.
“It was insinuated that I was taking bribes. I believe it is an offense to accuse a government official of taking bribes.”
Another poster uploaded photos of Martens’ driveway on a public group, after an animal apparently dragged garbage to it while she was away on holidays.
Others said Marten’s comments were inappropriate given that she is also the Chief Elections Officer.
“I just think that [the election] is really bringing out the uglies in people for Princeton,” she said.
These kinds of online comments can harm the town, she added.
“We are trying to project an image that is Princeton and for the majority. It’s the few that make it look bad. A lot of people can go on these pages and look to see what people are saying. You don’t have to live here.”
According to Martens part of a CAO’s job in the new digital world is to use social media to communicate with residents, including posting information about what council and town staff are doing, and sometimes correcting false statements.
That direction came as recently as earlier this year from the Local Government Management Agency, she said.
Martens’ tasks as Chief Elections Officer involve overseeing the mechanics of the election – making sure paperwork is in order, hiring and training elections workers and ensuring that all laws and requirements are followed.
The Spotlight contacted Elections BC, and a communications officer confirmed the Martens did nothing wrong by addressing municipal issues on social media in her role as CAO, while also holding the position of Chief Elections Officer.
Following the comments on Facebook, Martens withdrew from all local Facebook groups after posting the following statement:
“After much consideration, having my ethics and integrity attacked, and being targeted personally, I have decided to leave all groups. There is confusion between what I do as a CAO and what an Elections Officer does. My intent and obligation to provide accurate information to the public has been seen as campaigning for candidates, which I have never done. It has caused me an enormous amount of stress and sleepless nights. I have been accused of using all of my work time to respond, which isn’t true. I spend most of my weekends and evenings monitoring the information posted on these groups. Like right now, when I am away on holidays. I will leave this up to the new Council to decide if they wish me to continue this after the election. If you would like information, please call the office and I definitely would assist you. Thank you so much for those of you who appreciated my posts.”
Martens also said, that while she has run many elections over the years, she has never voted in any of them, so as to preserve her position of neutrality.
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