Monroe again talking about Facebook use among council members
MONROE - The city is investigating a new approach to how City Council members can interact with the public over social media.
The issue of social media blew up in 2012 with council infighting that led to restricting council members from having independently run pages on Facebook.
The social media pages became an issue after council members in October tried to penalize Councilwoman Patsy Cudaback for writing about city business to a resident on her Facebook page intended for public discourse. Cudaback took down her page after Councilmen Kurt Goering and Kevin Hanford accused her of breaking open records law. An open records expert told the Tribune at the time he didn’t think Cudaback broke any law.
In the wake of this, the city tried a draft policy where the city’s IT department vetted posts through the city website.
Monroe doesn’t have the staffing for that, so now it is trying to utilize the existing system of the city website to manage social media postings. The city website’s tools and features allow for the use of blogs, and corresponding notices to be posted on Facebook or Twitter.
Part of the city’s concern is following the state’s Public Records Act, which requires elected officials to have posts archivable by the city. The city’s current policy didn’t meet the breadth of the act.
In the new system, all postings and public feedback would be directed back to councilmembers’ city email addresses, as any city website and email systems are backed up and archived.
“If you have a writing, and it relates to government, you are acting in official capacity. It is a public record and it’s subject to disclosure,” city attorney Zach Lell said.
Some cities let their council members operate their own social media accounts as public officials at their own discretion.
Goering said liability is the issue. Whether or not someone posts something inappropriate, or if a council member were to make a mistake in posting or tweeting, there could be room for negative reflection on the city and even in the public records section.
“How do we not get dinged?” he asked rhetorically.
The council generally agreed that having a policy and using it would be the direction to go.
Cudaback said the policy would hold council members to a higher standard and that it would help to have a policy.
Lell concurred that a policy is needed, and that educating officials about social media, open public records would also be beneficial.
Mayor Geoffrey Thomas directed staff to continue researching to create a draft policy about using social media by city officials for the council to review again in six weeks.