Communicate, folks

Electronic communications come with hazards. They communicate words, but most forms do not accompany the words with tone of voice, inflection, eye movements or facial expressions. It’s not uncommon to hear of friendships or relationships that were wounded, even ended, by messages that were sent with one meaning but received with another meaning. Some businesses have practices for their workers to follow to avoid these hazards.

That’s one of the reasons we were puzzled by Reno City Councilmember Oscar Delgado’s attack via Facebook on fellow Councilmember Naomi Duerr without first talking to her. In comments reported by investigators probing activities of former city manager Andrew Clinger, Duerr said she suspected Delgado, for “cultural reasons,” would not credit the complaints made by women against Clinger.

It’s easy to understand why Delgado was upset by the characterization. It’s not easy to understand why he went public with his complaint without first speaking with Duerr. He believed she was referring to a racial culture. When accused, she said she was referring to the culture within city government offices.

He issued a statement: “I have served with Councilwoman Duerr for more than two years now, and I had hoped that she saw me as a valued colleague and not just the ’Latino Councilman.’ While I am certainly proud of my heritage, I have gone out of my way to demonstrate that I represent all people, regardless of race, creed or national origin. Second, I am highly offended that Councilwoman Duerr suggested that I am unable to make an informed decision based on available facts. Instead, it appears that she chose to lump me into outdated stereotypes regarding Latino men. Such stereotypes are hurtful, demeaning, and completely inaccurate. … Third, it is unfortunate that Councilwoman Duerr apparently believes that Latino men are reflexively dismissive of sexual harrassement complaints for cultural reasons.”

While Delgado was reading the report, so was Duerr. She said she spotted her comments as badly phrased and easy to misinterpret. She tried to call Delgado to apologize. She was unable to make contact, so when his comments went public, she responded with her own public comment:

“My intent, which was very poorly worded in hindsight, was in fact made in reference to the culture of the city which up to now how has been very informal and casual, based on friend relationships. Several others commented on this same culture at the city in the investigative report. I had been impressed with the relationship that Mr. Delgado had been able to develop with our city manager, as it was something I had not been able to achieve and wished to.

“I truly understand how the comment came across in the report and am sincerely sorry for the pain it may have caused Mr. Delgado or others that read it. … I hope that Mr. Delgado considers my past two years of support for all people of all cultures and takes that into consideration going forward.”

To be sure, there are open meeting considerations, but this dispute is not among them. The two councilmembers’s seats are about eight feet from each other. Failing that, the two are a phone call away from each other. Either would have been preferable to going public first.