EDITORIAL: Let City Clerk Manage Official Facebook Posts
Last updated 1/10/2021 at 11:36am
There's just something inherently wrong about people who clearly don't understand social media trying to regulate others' use of it.
Lake Wales City Manager Ken Fields, through the city's HR director, proposed a social media policy that required not only employees, but also city officials to get approval prior to posting on social media.
At 72, Fields is at the upper end of the Baby Boomer generation. According to a 2018 Facebook demographic study only one in four people over age 65 uses the social media platform. It was apparent from the discussion at the March 19 city commission meeting that Fields isn't especially proficient with social media.
City Commissioner Curtis Gibson at 34 is the youngest city official and part of the generation that embraces social media. The Facebook study showed about 80 percent of Millennials use the social media platform.
So Gibson took great offense when the city manager brought forth a policy that would have required not only employees, but elected city officials to get prior approval from a City moderator before posting on social media where he is identified as a city commissioner.
Gibson objected, citing his freedom of speech and suggesting he was being targeted: "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."
Use of social media isn't just a young person's game. The second most prolific social media poster in the city is probably Mayor Eugene Fultz, who turned 69 in February. Fultz serves as the city's primary ambassador and he and his wife, Jannell, regularly post about their activities and community events on Facebook. They recognize the power of social media to connect and communicate.
Part of Fields' reasoning for restricting commissioners was a mistaken belief that their social media pages were automatically linked to the city's Facebook page. City Clerk Jennifer Nanek clarified that she checks the mayor's and commissioners' posts and shares only those that are appropriate on the city page. Nanek is the city's designated public information officer and under the social media policy would be the person to review and approve all official posts by employees.
Fortunately the city commission March 19 directed staff to remove elected officials from the social media policy. They said they would be accountable for following the law and would be subject to investigation by the Florida Ethics Commission if they stepped out of line.
Vice Mayor Robin Gibson did bring up an important point: there needs to be a "clear separation" between the city and anything overtly political. It shouldn't look like the City is endorsing officials running for re-election. Mayor Fultz and City Commissioner Curtis Gibson are up for re-election April 2.
But in solving that problem, commissioners may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. (Note to Millennials: that's an idiomatic expression for an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad.) To placate Fields, they agreed to consider a policy that would prohibit sharing of any posts at all from the mayor's and commissioners' Facebook pages. That's a bad policy, especially because Mayor Fultz and Commissioner Gibson often provide great photos, videos and accounts of events throughout the city.
City Clerk Nanek is proficient with social media and perfectly capable of separating posts that promote the city and its residents from posts that might be considered political. By eliminating all sharing, the City Facebook page will lose a wealth of good content.
The city manager has designated Nanek as the city's public information officer. He should stay out of what he doesn't understand and just let her do her job.