“take down all your creepy posts about LHENA volunteers”

I was elected to the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) Board of Directors in April. Before that, I had been blogging and tweeting about local politics for roughly a year. Not everyone’s a fan.

At LHENA’s May meeting–my first as a member of the board–my blog was made a topic for discussion (surprising because I wasn’t on the agenda). During the discussion I was accused by a fellow board member of “publishing the home address of a single mom.” This was an intentionally vague and misleading reference to a blog post I had written about HGTV personality Nicole Curtis’ permit violations at some of her Minneapolis properties (also a threat to single moms: this WCCO story).

In July, a second board member accused me of “stalking” and demanded I delete a tweet linking to political commentary in a public Facebook post. The topic was parking reform (not vacation photos), so “stalking” seemed over the top.

Four days after the “stalking” accusation, I received an email from an unknown sender using an apparently fake name. The subject line was my girlfriend’s name. The message began by saying, “someone is playing your game.” The email contained a link to a Craigslist ad seeking sex; the ad was written to appear as if it came from my girlfriend, using her name, location and description. The email ended with a threat: “take down all your creepy posts about LHENA volunteers etc. Or who knows maybe her exact address, picture or phone # might show up tomorrow in a different category.”

We reported this to the police immediately. In September, all but one of my fellow board members voted to request the police seek a subpoena for Craigslist and Gmail to determine the identity of the person who sent the threat. I appreciate that, though I’m skeptical the police will pursue it.

You might imagine my initial reaction based on the content and timing of the email threat. Yet I’ve been told that it’s offensive to ask whether someone within LHENA has any connection to or knowledge of who might be responsible. It was said during September’s board meeting that this is no big deal; that putting my girlfriend’s name, location, and description in a sex ad is just someone being “snarky.” It’s also been said that the more important issue is all the unfair attacks (never specified, but presumably from me) coming at LHENA over the past year.

Not helping matters, Minneapolis’ Neighborhood and Community Relations Department replied to my initial email reporting the threat by sending a list of social media guidelines. I forwarded the email to NCR, and they gave me a lesson in discouraging participation. It was disappointing to have the city department that oversees neighborhood organizations suggest–in an email sent to the entire LHENA board–that my actions are the problem.

That attitude has carried over to the months-long debate regarding LHENA’s new “code of conduct” policy, with the argument being that the organization has been victimized by social media. Some folks were very adamant about including broad rules against “disparaging” language that causes a “barrier to participation,” and generally trying to define the most stringent possible standard for speech infractions.

I wish there was the same urgency to address those few LHENA board members who have disparaged me as a sort of predator–to the degree someone felt putting a Craigslist target on my girlfriend’s back was appropriate payback. As for barriers to participation: I’m pretty sure the only reason the anonymous emailer knows her name, or where she lives, or that she even exists, is because I brought her to neighborhood association meetings. She won’t be coming back.

The concerted effort to hype me as a menace has put someone close to me in danger, making it harder for her to feel safe in her own neighborhood. I sense too much denial and defiance from the people participating in that effort. This all escalated over a period of months during which I made the mistake of saying nothing. So I’m writing this post as a matter of self defense. My hope is that calling this out publicly makes it less likely to happen again.

2 Replies to ““take down all your creepy posts about LHENA volunteers””

  1. Hi John. This is disturbing and I feel for you. As a someone who also straddles the line between critique, satire, and earnest public participation I also worry sometimes. For example, I was informed after joining the Planning Commission that a reporter that is sometimes a target for my feeble wit had read someone I'd written and considered it obsessive and that I was "stalking." I've had to think a bit about how to balance being involved against staying on the sidelines and keeping my critical perspective. Some people see nothing amusing about the often Kafkaseque vagaries of local politics, as you know well.

    But your story is far over any lines of decency, and only shows why the work you do is necessary, to burst some of the bubbles of solipsism that are too common in our city. Keep up the good work trying to build bridges and open doors. Or don't, if it gets too much to put up with the B.S.

  2. John, my sincere condolences, let me know if there you'd like to organize a broader response to the attack and the appalling lack of responsiveness from LHENA and NCR.
    Max

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