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Social Media Protocols for Members of City Council
January 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm #151257
A new member of City Council has asked whether we have a policy about how councilmembers should handle their Facebook communications specific to topics covered at City Council meetings or other matters in which they may be involved. Since engagement on FB has been limited by the current council, the matter has not yet yielded policy decisions. We’re interested in knowing whether other municipalities have developed policies to guide their elected representatives in this arena.
January 30, 2012 at 7:18 pm #151279
January 30, 2012 at 7:37 pm #151277
Michael McCarthy, APRParticipant
We have this wording,
“City elected officials shall not engage in on-line discussions concerning matters which may come before them for City Council action.”
Because n Florida, by having a conversation on Facebook, they are not providing advance notice of a public meeting – or so is the interpretation by many lawyers here.
There’s also the campaign FB page versus elected official facebook page. Just as we do not allow campaign related material on official city commissioner web pages, we also do not allow campaign related activity on official city commissioner Facebook pages, since we cannot use City resources for election campaigns.
We also add a line in our policy referencing our existing ethics manual, specifically our ethics and electios sections, just to cover all bases..
“City use of social media sites will comply with City Policy & Procedures 800.5, Ethics, and 808.18, Participation in Political Campaigns.”
January 30, 2012 at 7:37 pm #151275
Thanks Mark — I wonder, though, wouldn’t different guidelines apply to a corporate entity than it would to a municipal one? I’ve actually been sent the IBM guide before and didn’t give it much consideration because it’s not a government body.
January 30, 2012 at 7:54 pm #151273
This is an interesting topic and an evolving area. Before looking into policy, you probably want to talk with your jurisdiction’s records manager and look into your state’s public information laws. Since you are dealing with elected officials, any communications on official topics are likely to be covered on both these fronts. Basically, it’s just not good policy to be using social media for official discussions until the eDiscovery and FOIA laws catch up with the technology.
On a related topic, we had an email dilemma with our redistricting commission. The Commission was made up of private citizens so we could not give them County emails, but their communications were public records. Our compromise was to let them use personal email, but to require them to cc any redistricting-related communications to an address controlled by the County. We also gave them a crash introduction to records law so that they were aware of the fact that their private email was subject to eDiscovery and FOIA if they used it for public business. Many of them set up special personal email addresses just for redistricting communications. It sounds somewhat convoluted, but worked out well.
January 30, 2012 at 11:20 pm #151271
Excellent question, Vicki! My city has both internal and external social media policies. These guide what social media mechanisms the city will use and how they will be used. However, staff and not council members are administrators and moderators of those media. If individual council members choose to have, for instance, a Facebook page, their actions are guided by Washington state law, specifically the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=42.30). Council members are counseled by both our association of cities and insurance pool over avoiding “rolling quorums” in which individual council members discuss business issues with one another, either verbally or by e-mail or other private exchange (which could include social media), then someone forwards something to another, the next person discusses it with someone else, etc…and suddenly they have a quorum participating in the exchange. Taken altogether, this is (or at least can be) viewed as an OPMA violation. Further, the contents may be a “written record” under the state Public Records Act (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=42.56) and may be discloseable. (Guidance varies on this, but the conservative view is the contents of even such devices as personal smart phones are included.) Do you have bloggers on your council? That presents its own difficulties: they need to be careful about, for instance, pre-stating a position or vote on a matter which other council members could see; or via interactive functions taking additional comments on closed-record topics. In order to sidestep such issues, your council would be well advised to adopt conservative individual practices, lacking any written policy or applicable law. Perhaps your jurisdiction could conduct an information session based on applicable statute for them during an open meeting, culminating in a policy discussion. Then you will at least have something on the record and potentially an entree to developing written policy for the future…BEFORE anybody wanders into Troubleville.
January 30, 2012 at 11:20 pm #151269
January 31, 2012 at 3:45 am #151267
January 31, 2012 at 4:58 am #151265
Hi again- Having nothing better to do this evening, I looked up your state sunshine law & found that it’s distinctly different from ours in key ways that makes much of previous post inapplicable. (Sorry.) However, I did find this policy from a county in OH that is actually intended for the electeds: http://www.hamiltoncountyohio.gov/hc/hc_pdfs/SocialMediaGuidelinesandPolicies.pdf I also found this conference http://ohiogov20.org/ which is from last year but you might contact them & see if they’re having another one this year, or if they can provide you with any relevant materials from the last one. Hope this helps!
January 31, 2012 at 2:57 pm #151263
Thanks all — for the very helpful advice. I guess we have our work cut out for us!
February 1, 2012 at 2:16 pm #151261
Here’s our list of social media policies:
In terms of elected officials, I’ve also written about the subject, suggesting that the Facebook page should always remain connected to the office vs. the officeholder. A city council member can personalize that page, but it should not change out after their term is up.
February 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm #151259
Jumping in here — and with disclosure I am an elected city councilor in Newburyport, Massachusetts, currently serving my second term — I use a WordPress blog, Facebook, Twitter, and to a lesser extent Google+, for council communications. I also have a Mailchimp-powered email list. (The Facebook, Twitter, and G+ accounts are integrated into the rest of myself online, and are not specific to the council.)
I’m making up my rules as I go along. I’m cognizant of state ethics and conflict of interest laws, and I’m aware of another councilor activities; but because the city as an entity has yet to officially enter social media, I’m using my own judgment and being smart about what I share.
Short of rambling on, can I help you answer specific questions Vicki?
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