Director of Communications and Engagement is not all that engaging with the Gazette

By Pepper Parr

February 28th, 2023



In May of2020, the Gazette published a story on Shawna Stolte’s experience is as a newly elected member of city council. There is a link to that story at the bottom of this article.

On February 28th of this year the Gazette published an opinion piece with the title is this a Farce or a Tragedy. A link to that opinion piece is also set out below.

Shortly after the Opinion piece was published we got an email from Kwab Ako-adjei, Director of Communications and engagement, complaining about statements I made in the Opinion piece which he said were false.

His note to us said:

“If you see something happening at the City and you have questions, reach out, you know you will get a response.

“Articles like this do nothing but harm people’s reputation, especially when it turns out to be false.”

This was followed by some back and forth with Kwab.

Kwab Ako-adjei, Director of Communications and Engagement,

Kwab: “This is what needs to be corrected. Because what you’re writing/musing is not true. You can’t use opinion pieces to make things up, thereby hurting staff’s reputation and leaving it out in the public that this was all some sort of plan that was hatched”

I responded: “The interview I did, which was taped, makes no mention of a staff rotation. There is nothing that requires me to ask anyone if what Stolte said was true or not.”

“Further, to take someone as experienced as Gartside to provide staffing for a new councillor and call it a staff rotation is to me a real stretch.”

I added: “As you know, the Mayor embarrassed herself and the position of Mayor with her rant in June of 2022

“I think what you are doing is trying to limit the damage. There is nothing I did that harmed Gartside – she identified herself. We didn’t.

In a following note from Kwab he said:
“You might want to go back and look at this quote from one your articles where a “home job” is mentioned:

Kwab refers to an article I did some time ago where I mentioned that Staff have what are referred to is as “home” jobs from which they are from time to time rotated from to some other job to gain additional experience.

Kwab then says: “This clearly points to job rotations and how staff have “home positions” when they go on those rotations. This is about getting the facts straight and not fishing for stories and ruining reputations.”

Not so fast my friend.  I have a problem believing that a two decade employee who is an excellent Committee Clerk would be sent out as an Administrative Assistant is as part of a job rotation.  She may have been filling in for someone but that is not what Shawna Stolte said during the interview.

Kwab: “At the City we have job rotation opportunities where staff go can to different departments to work, this was a case of that happening.”

I had a problem with believing that a two decade employee who is an excellent Committee Clerk would be sent out as an Administrative Assistant is as part of a job rotation.

He asks: “So again, will you correct the record?

What is there to correct?

Realize that we did not know that Georgie Gartside was the person who had been assigned to Stolte.  Gartside was not identified by the Gazette – she self-identified after which the Mayor took up her cause to have Stolte make a public apology. And we all saw how that went.

At one point it was not clear to me which article Kwab was unhappy with.

He cleared that up by saying: “it was the Opinion piece of January 24th adding that “Even the title is problematic.”

“Again, if you had reached out to me or anyone in communications we would have told you what I said before.  Those staff moves at the Clerks Office and Customer Experience had nothing to do with demotions.

(We never said there was a demotion. A Gazette reader in a comment raised that issue)

Specific to Georgie Gartside, Georgie’s ‘home position’ is as a Councillor’s Assistant, she was on a job rotation in the Clerks Office as a Committee Clerk. That Committee Clerk opportunity was available because that person was also on a job rotation.

“These job rotations usually have end dates and that’s what happened in this case. The rotations ended, which meant everyone had to return to their ‘home positions.’
In our interview with Stolte she made no mention of the person assigned to her (who turned out to be Gartside) was there on a rotation.

Rotations are a process used to give Staff members experience in different roles. Gartside had been around for some time; she served is as the Assistant to Rick Goldring when he was a Council member, she worked with Mayor Meed Ward during her first term of office

Kwab continues: “Even though it’s an opinion piece, journalist standards would still mean you could reach out for comment or clarification instead of musing about what could be taking place. In doing so, you yet again tarnished someone’s reputation for something that wasn’t even true. It was simply the end of a job rotation, that’s it.

That’s his view. Kwab seems to want us to call him up and say: “I’m doing an Opinion piece on job rotations that were done recently – can I get some input from you.”

Kwab gets more specific:
“I’ll point out some things below that were part of your article:

Questions that get asked are:

Did Galbraith ask for Gartside to serve as an Administrative Assistant? What role did the Mayor play in all this? –

Kwab said: “The Mayor has no role in this.”  The placing of staff in whatever position they serve in is an administrative matter that is controlled by City Manager

(Technically everything that happens is ‘approved by the city manager. He would not have been directly involved but given the sensitivity that now surrounds almost everything Gartside does (am I damaging her reputation here?) the City Manager would want to be briefed.

Who approved the transfer of Gartside is as the Assistant to Councillor Galbraith ? We suggested that the Mayor would have been involved – but not in any official capacity.

Kwab says: Again, not true. All you have to do is ask and not assume or infer.

In the article I said: “What we are seeing is people playing fast and loose with what is important – how the city is administered. It doesn’t do very much for morale at city hall. –

Kwab: “Again, not true. This was the end of a staff rotation that affected many staff. These staff rotations happen all the time at the City.”

Kwab has chosen to make this series a tempest in a tea pot issue (a small problem or event that has been blown out of proportion.)

Kwab: “This is what needs to be corrected. Because what you’re writing/musing is not true. You can’t use opinion pieces to make things up, thereby hurting staff’s reputation and leaving it out in the public that this was all some sort of plan that was hatched.

What we have found during the past three years are continued efforts on the part of  Kwab Ako-adjei, the Director of Communications and Engagement to influence the direction and tone a story takes.

That is his job. Members of Council bristle when they are given a script to read when they are chairing a Standing Committee meeting.

Kwab takes the position that all we have to do is call and he will get us an answer. That’s not what journalism is about.

Kwab may not like what we do. We don’t do what we do to make Kwab happy.

We are not all that keen on the how Kwab does his job. We have had comments from members of Council and from people who are very active volunteers; they don’t sing out praises.

Kwab adds that: “that, as City Manager, Tim wanted me to make it clear to you and to your readers that Georgie has performed exceptionally well in both positions and is a valued, respected and long-serving employee of the City.”

This is what communications staff are paid to do – put the best possible spin on whatever is being sent out.

The complete story on the two Gartside job rotations will probably never come out. But some light was shed this week on just how intrusive some of the direction coming from Kwab’s office is and how unhappy some members of Council are.

We will get back to you on that one..

Kwab asks: “Now that you have the facts behind what happened I would expect a correction to your article. Feel free to use the contents of this email for the correction.”

Well, that didn’t happen.

Related news and Opinion articles:

The Opinion piece

The Stolte interview

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7 comments to Director of Communications and Engagement is not all that engaging with the Gazette

  • David (The Boot)

    Question for you, how long would it take to play a game of ‘Monopoly’ with the city? I’m thinking never as they wouldn’t be able to agree on the rules and it would constantly be studied and referred back to committee.

  • Joe Gaetan

    To say the Deputy Mayor of engagement has her work cut out for her is an understatement. There are elements of engagement that work, like the advisory committees. The delegation process is the one area that could use a serious tune-up. When we elect a person to office we give them the authority to act on our behalf. If we don’t like how they represent us, then we have to wait 4 years to vote otherwise. The moral of the story is be careful who you vote for.

    • Jim Thomson

      I don’t think the advisory committees work. We get bike paths we don’t use because of the cycling advisory committee. Mean while some roads still have old fashioned grates designed to destroy bicycle wheels.

  • Blair Smith

    I’m not sure why this was ever an issue let alone why it remains so. In my opinion there was nothing wrong with the original reporting, nothing wrong with what Gartside (unidentified at that point) or Stolte did and no reason then or now for either apology or record correction. The continuing sensitivity around this “issue” is troubling. The original demand for a ‘public apology’ was, again in my opinion, completely unnecessary.  It did, however, result in a public display by the Mayor which I’m sure she now very much regrets. As, the City Manager opined to me and a colleague at the Food for Feedback event, “it was not her finest hour”. No kidding!

  • Lynn Crosby

    “Members of Council bristle when they are given a script to read when they are chairing a Standing Committee meeting.”. Wait, what??? Council members are given scripts to read at meetings? And they do it?????

    It’s a running joke now among many citizens that members of council and the Clerk don’t ever answer a question without going to Kwab who seems to write the answer for them. Sometimes they’ll literally say that Communications responded thusly, other times they don’t but it’s obvious the reply came from there. Or apparently from there.

    I personally have a problem with the practice of me writing to a member or members of council by email and receiving a reply where suddenly half the staff has been copied in. I didn’t give permission for my email to be sent to them and if I wanted it to go to them I’d have sent it myself (of course there’s still no staff directory so I guess it might be difficult). The reply I get often seems to me to have been written by Communications but signed as if by the recipient. Also explains the lag time.

    Funny, I just mentioned this fact in an email I sent to two members of council early Monday morning (no replies yet) on the topic of the workshop and making it harder for the public to delegate and on the silly “let’s make rules about demanding apologies” thing. That item of course looks as if it stemmed from this very issue: the bizarre demanding of an apology (which wasn’t ever needed), and the embarrassing public spectacle on which you’ve written many times. Those citizens who are paying attention talk at length about what is going on. We see the Integrity complaints (including the 3 frivolous ones that were tossed out), the sudden need for an apology to Gartside and the behaviour at the two now infamous meetings as being very telling. Who is directing whom at the City of Burlington is a question worth pondering.

    • David

      Whenever i complain about something to my councillor it gets booted over to the person who runs the department i’m complaining about, obviously they will defend their position to the death often sending me a snarky response. My advice complain about the snarky response and threaten to make it an official complaint. You might get a private off sight damage control meeting and a cup of coffee. Take a friend tie them up for an hour.
      I was hoping E-Cob was gonna form some type shadow municipal government so we could copy them in to keep some stats on what our complaints are about, as they always say I’m the only one complaining.

      • Lynn

        Good advice. Oh yeah, the “you’re the only one complaining” line! I also love how often I’ve heard that staff doesn’t see a problem on something because nobody is delegating saying they have one. Yes well that’s not a requirement for us and you’ve made it brutal and impossible anyway. Us telling our councillor, by any means including verbal, phone, on their social media or on the street should be good enough.