A suggestion that municipal politicians should not speak ill of the City of Red Deer in social media forums came under attack during a council committee meeting.
On Monday, the city’s Governance and Policy Committee, comprised of city council, discussed the proposed Code of Conduct recommended by the Legislative and Governance Services Department.
This Code of Conduct included rules on social media and networking, including the fact that council members who use Facebook and Twitter are encouraged to post a caveat to say their views may not necessarily represent the city’s official information.
But it was the rule that suggested council members must not do or say anything that could harm the reputation of the city or city’s services that alarmed the committee.
Coun. Chris Stephan said he couldn’t understand this rule because he believes elected officials are responsible to the citizens, first and foremost.
“I’m just wondering where that came from because from a governance issue, I have a problem with that,” said Stephan.
Legislative and Governance Services Department manager Elaine Vincent replied this rule was proposed to show that council is not only acting on behalf of its citizens, but councillors and the mayor are also the leaders of the municipal organization.
“There’s that role where you are going to have to balance what you say and that your remarks don’t compromise the position of the city,” said Vincent.
“That’s what it’s trying to speak to. So if we were going to say the city is doing a really bad job in managing dandelions and it’s because so-and-so is incompetent. …
“What council would say is that ‘We have some concerns with how the dandelion program is being managed and we’ve asked the city manager to investigate that.’ ”
To prevent a councillor from saying that the city isn’t doing a good job on controlling dandelions would be a form censorship, Stephan said.
“I’m not here working for the city, I’m here for the citizens,” he said. “This seems like an internal policy. It doesn’t seem like it should be a policy that should be at all applicable to a council member or elected representative.”
Mayor Morris Flewwelling said the statement does sound like somebody is being muzzled.
“I think it’s how you do that — I think you can speak out and raise concern,” said Flewwelling. “It’s not so much the call but how the call is made.”
Coun. Paul Harris said he doesn’t mind the truth coming out if there are problems with city services.
“I think the city really does have a sense of what’s happening and where the bumps are already, so I was OK with it (the rule),” said Harris. “I thought the (rule) was a bit wishy washy.”
The committee recommended that administration have another look at the rule.
The committee recommended three other points on social media be approved.
Councillors who maintain their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are encouraged to repost or retweet official city information, but must not share confidential information or information that has not been officially released.
City councillors are also encouraged to identify when the views expressed are theirs and not official city information. Council is encouraged to have caveats to say their views that may not represent official city communication.
The Code of Conduct includes other topics such as accepting gifts, hospitality and other benefits; conflicts of interest; and handling disputes amongst themselves.
A policy also outlines the responsibilities and roles of council and the mayor, acting mayor and deputy mayor.
Vincent said this report will likely come to city council in September for its approval.
Council has never had a formal code of conduct, she said.
“So this is really groundbreaking territory,” said Vincent on Tuesday.