Commissioners Reject Social Media Policy
Last updated 3/20/2019 at 8:25am
The Lake Wales City Commission at their March 19 meeting shot down a proposed city policy that attempted to regulate their ability to comment freely on social media.
City Commissioner Curtis Gibson said he supported a clear social media policy for employees but said he felt including elected officials was "out of bounds."
"Frankly, as the youngest member of the commission and the one who uses social media the most, I feel targeted by this proposed policy," Commissioner Gibson said. "I resent any attempt by the City Manager to limit my right to free speech."
Gibson pointed out that section C of the proposed policy said city officials "must submit content to a city moderator to review, authorize and allow to be posted on social media."
He listed the topics of recent posts that basically promoted city and community events and said "Getting prior approval from a city moderator would greatly inhibit my ability to use social media to promote the good things happening in Lake Wales."
City Human Resources Director Sandra Davis told LakeWalesNews.net that City Clerk Jennifer Nanek, as the City's public information officer, would be the moderator of social media communications. Davis wrote the proposed policy, saying "Adding city officials was suggested at the training put on by the Florida League of Cities."
But Commissioner Gibson said he could find no social media policies that tried to regulate the speech of elected officials in his review of the Florida League of Cities social media toolkit, checking with nearby cities, and discussions with commissioners and mayors from throughout the country at a recent National League of Cities conference.
"I am perfectly capable of regulating my own comments and making sure I comply with Florida's Sunshine and public records laws," Commissioner Gibson said. He said the city manager should be monitoring activities of city employees, not commissioners, reminding him: "We don't report to you."
Vice Mayor Robin Gibson said he still maintains a website created for his campaign and he doesn't think the city should regulate its content.
Mayor Eugene Fultz said commissioners are bound by state law and subject to investigation by the Florida elections Commission if they act inappropriately.
Davis backtracked and said if city commissioners didn't want to be included, they could be deleted from the policy.
City Manager Ken Fields tried to justify the policy by saying the city's Facebook page linked to commissioner pages, but Nanek said she looks at the officials' pages and only shares to the city page what is appropriate.
Vice Mayor Gibson said there needed to be a "clear separation" so it didn't look like the City was promoting candidates for office. Mayor Eugene Fultz and Commissioner Curtis Gibson are candidates for re-election April 2.
Commissioners agreed a revised policy could restrict the City from sharing the Facebook posts of city officials to avoid the appearance that they were promoting their re-election. The policy will be revised to cover only the activities of employees and brought back for commission approval.