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Council votes against pursuing social media policy

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Tillsonburg town council voted against asking staff to draft a social media guide for consideration by council.

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At its May 25 virtual council meeting, Mayor Stephen Molnar proposed a resolution to direct staff to provide a draft Social Media Guide for consideration, with ‘guidelines and standards to ensure the appropriate use and management of social media on behalf of the Town of Tillsonburg.’

Molnar said the idea was to ensure “that we are appropriately aligned as we advance as a community in the utilization of social media and our social marketing and our various departments.”

Other municipalities have social media policies and Molnar suggested it was time for Tillsonburg to consider it.

“It’s really an opportunity to ensure that we … have the governance capacity that other municipalities are advancing on throughout the province.”

“(In) part of our HR policy, there is a section on electronic communications,” said CAO Kyle Pratt, referring a question from Coun. Chris Parker as to whether the town already had a staff social media policy to Director of Corporate Services/Clerk, Michelle Smibert.

Currently in the Personnel Policy, said Smibert, there are a couple paragraphs that reference social media and how staff should be using it.

“Obviously we want to do that in a positive light,” she said.

Smibert noted that other municipalities do have more comprehensive social media policies, and that the county will be reviewing its IT policies, and in tandem Tillsonburg could potentially do the same.

“We haven’t identified what policies we will be taking a look at, but currently yes we do have a little information in our Personnel Policy, although it’s not comprehensive.”

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“Would the policy then focus primarily on the employees or on the corporation?” asked Coun. Penny Esseltine.

Most of social media policies deal specifically with staff, Smibert replied, but some have also dealt with council.

“In my experience, policies typically speak to staff and staff interactions,” said Pratt. “Whereas it would be the Code of Conduct that would speak to any councillor directions.”

“The intent is to stimulate the conversation and that’s why it was drafted very specifically the way it was drafted,” said Molnar, answering a question from Coun. Deb Gilvesy.

Molnar said members of council have a responsibility on the use of social media.

“I consider that a very large responsibility that individually and collectively we need to be aware of,” said Molnar.

The Code of Conduct’s reference to social media is scant, he noted.

“I think that the town’s Communications Department does a fantastic job,” said Gilvesy. “The posts are very appropriate and the responses that they give are very factual and appropriate as well.

“I have a concern though that we are heading a little bit down ‘Bill C-10’ where we’re going to start censoring social media and posts. So I do have a concern overall with that, where this may be headed.”

“I have similar concerns,” said Parker. “I just want to make sure that if we were to go forward with a policy like this we’re not going to limit free speech of councillors, making sure that the communication with the public, that the public has the opportunity to reach out to councillors and get information. I have a feeling that this is starting to trend towards a little bit of censorship when it comes to that. Most people when they communicate, it’s their own personal opinion. Social media is a tool that is needed – it’s the same as responding to an email. So we have a policy in regards to responding to emails and communication, it should be included in there. I don’t think we need a special social media policy for this right now.”

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“I think it’s a request for some information,” said Molnar, “and I’m not afraid to accept intelligent feedback from what other communities are doing and how to ultimately enhance the potential level of communication. That’s what it was intended for… it was here to follow up on initiative that was introduced to council and the community back when we were reviewing the Media Policy (adopted by council on Feb. 8) and I remain engaged to ensure that this good governance is a part of that.”

The resolution was defeated 4-3 with councillors Chris Rosehart, Gilvesy, Parker and Deputy Mayor Dave Beres voting against it.

cabbott@postmedia.com

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