The Edmonds City Council had a lengthy discussion Tuesday night about a proposed policy that would regulate how councilmembers communicate online — both through social media like Facebook and Twitter and on members’ individual pages on the City of Edmonds website.
However, the proposal failed 3-4 after councilmembers expressed concerns about the policy either being too restrictive or not restrictive enough when it comes to limits on information they can post on their individual council web pages.
The staff proposal — prepared at the council’s request — covered a wide range of online communication policies, including recommendations that councilmembers not talk about official city business via Facebook or Twitter (the policy stated those mediums should be used for informal communication only, and should always include a link to the city’s website) and that all members email officially through a standard city email address rather than a personal email account.
But the issue about what type of content a councilmember could post on his or her own city web page became the focal point for the discussion, and the recommendations on social media and official email addresses never made it into the debate.
Interestingly enough, as My Edmonds Newswas tweeting about this issue during Tuesday night’s council meeting, we received a tweet from Mukilteo City Councilmember Jen Gregerson asking whether the Edmonds council had made a decision on the social media portion of the policy. “The SM (social media issue) is one I want to bring up (before the Mukilteo Council),” Gregerson tweeted. “Just working on the best way how.” Note: My Edmonds News added clarifications via parentheses in Gregerson’s tweet, since Twitter has a 140-character limit.
In a later email to us, Gregerson explained that she has concerns about whether councilmembers being Facebook friends while also discussing city issues via Facebook could constitute a quorum and thus violate the Open Public Meetings act. “The issue would be if two or more councilmembers discussed issues on Facebook and two or more others were friends with them,” she wrote. “They can therefore see that discussion and are a party to it, just like sitting in a restaurant with the other two or receiving a forwarded email.”
Councilmembers Michael Plunkett, Dave Orvis, Diane Buckshnis and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas spoke in favor of limits on what city-sponsored web pages should include, ranging from no political campaign material “which has been an issue during past council elections“ to no outside links to news articles, editorials or e-newsletters that could be considered political.
Noting that most councilmembers have their own private websites anyway, which are used to promote their candidacy during re-election campaigns, Fraley-Monillas said it was important to keep campaign information “totally separate: from a councilmember’s official city website. “You cannot use the city website for your own gain,” she said.
But Council President Steve Bernheim, along with Councilmembers D.J. Wilson and Strom Peterson, spoke in favor of allowing councilmembers to post a variety of opinions and ideas on their city websites, to provide “transparency” to citizens interested in knowing their representatives’ stands on various issues.
“I don’t see why we need to be setting restrictions on our own web pages,” Bernheim stated. “I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Orvis disagreed. When it comes to posting political comments on a city website, “it’s not transparency. It’s one-sided,” he said.
One of the questions raised was, who would police the types of articles that councilmembers post, if some outside links were allowed? Councilmembers agreed that staff time should not be used to determine whether an outside article was political; Peterson and Bernheim argued that members should police themselves, with the added safeguard that the public is likely to complain to the Public Disclosure Commission anyway if something appears on a member’s official city page that is out of line.
Despite amendments offered to address the various concerns raised, the final vote on the policy failed, with Buckshnis, Orvis, Plunkett and Bernheim against and Fraley-Monillas, Wilson and Peterson in favor.