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Council to vote on social media policy next week

At city council’s request, administration has prepared a social media policy for members of council and local boards, which the city’s elected officials will debate next week
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A social media policy for members of city council and local boards has been drafted by city administration for consideration at the June 28 council meeting.

The policy, if approved and ratified by city council, would come into play in time to affect mayor and council members’ online activities as this year’s civic election season heats up.

Among other things, the proposed policy would ensure that the city’s elected officials and members of local boards:

  • Do not post or allow the posting of personal information in any form or discuss situations regarding residents, staff, other identifiable individuals, suppliers, vendors or contractors without obtaining their consent. 
  • Act with “respect, dignity, courtesy and empathy toward others” on social media, treating the forum the same as they would during meetings within council chambers.
  • Do not make personal attacks or engage in criticism of municipal staff or “disrespect, bully, shame or insult” other members or the public.
  • At all times identify themselves when using social media and not disguise themselves in any way.
  • When using social media technologies which permits other users to post content, they shall monitor the content regularly and remove content that fails to meet the policy’s requirements within a reasonable time.
  • Accurately and adequately communicate information regarding the decisions of city council and not “malign a debate or decision or otherwise erod the authority of council.”
  • Ensure that they content they post on social media is “accurate and factual” and “not post or allow the posting of any content which they know or ought to know is misleading or false.”

The city’s elected officials made the push for city administration to draft a social media policy last year, which Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti first suggested in response to the online activities of Ward 5 Coun. Robert Kirwan. 

At the time, Kirwan had issued a public apology in relation to a post he and wife Valerie made on their Valley East Facebook page in which they draw a parallel between the 2019 killing of Preston Pellerin and negative social media exchanges.

In response to their original post, a screenshot of a post by Pellerin’s mother, Courtney, noted, “My son’s murder had nothing to do with Facebook messages.”

Kirwan’s apology came around the same time that city council voted to reprimand him for his involvement in the use of the fake online moniker “Jessie Timmons,” which gave the false impression of public support.

Although Kirwan said that his wife, Valerie, was the only one to use the moniker, they’re both moderators of the Valley East Facebook page. As such, he knew about her use of Jessie Timmons. Kirwan dismissed the issue at the time as a “witch hunt.”

In January, Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini was accused of joining now-mayoral candidate Bob Johnston in spreading various points of misinformation about the city’s homeless community through a video posted to YouTube, which remains online and has received more than 3,000 views.

Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc brought attention to the alleged misinformation during a finance and administration committee meeting, after which he told Sudbury.com that it has reinforced his support for a social media policy for the city’s elected officials.

In drafting the social media policy city council is slated to debate next week, staff consulted with 40 of the larger municipalities in Ontario, of which four had social media policies or guidelines. The guideline documents consisted mainly of tips or suggestions, such as maintaining privacy, being authentic and not posting when in doubt.

Although the City of Greater Sudbury does not have a social media policy, the Code of Conduct briefly addresses social media:

17. Every Member shall:

a) adhere to any and all City policies and guidelines, regarding social media use; and (b) always identify themselves without any attempt to cover, disguise or mislead as to their identity or status as an elected representative of the City when using social media.

In his report to city council, city solicitor and clerk Eric Labelle notes that “the entirety of the Code applies to the conduct of members regardless of the medium of communication being used. That would, of course, include conduct of members when interacting with others using online resources commonly called social media.”

The June 28 city council meeting’s open session will begin at 6 p.m., which the public is invited to witness in-person at council chambers in Tom Davies Square. The meeting will also be livestreamed, which can be viewed by clicking here

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.