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City to limit employee social media use

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By Calen McKinney

City employees must now watch what they say about their employer via social media, or they could be in violation of a new policy.

The policy was approved during last week's regular Campbellsville City Council meeting, but not without some disagreement between members.

Campbellsville Mayor Tony Young said Council members were given a copy of a proposed policy to review that addresses several issues.

Young said he asked for some help researching social media and was given the policy he proposes that the Council adopt.

"It is very thorough, very detailed and rather clear," he said.

Councilman Terry Keltner made a motion to approve the policy, which Councilman Richard Jeter seconded.

Before voting, Councilwoman Vangie Ford said she believes a provision in the policy is too broad.

The policy states, "As public employees, City personnel are cautioned that speech on or off duty, made pursuant to their official duties, that is that owes its existence to the employee's professional duties and responsibilities, is not protected speech under the First Amendment and may form the basis of discipline if deemed detrimental to the City. City personnel should assume that their speech and related activity on social media sites will reflect upon their office and this City."

Ford said she believes the provision means if she worked for the City and said something about another area she could be subject to discipline.

Young said each situation would be considered individually for discipline action, depending on the severity of the offense.

"I don't know how you would judge that," Ford said.

Young said he would interview the employee, gather documentation and then evaluate how severe the infraction is. He said he was told to remember a few issues when using computer systems at a workplace.

"One is, that is not my computer," he said. "I am at work. And this company has provided this computer for me to work with."

Young said it's also important to remember to be careful what is sent. He said there is a record created of anything typed or sent on a workplace computer.

"And you must answer for that," he said.

Councilman Stan McKinney said the policy does not specifically refer to using City-owned equipment. He said the reference to a person's First Amendment rights concern him.

"It says that you can't take things from work and use it at home," Young said. "This is a policy that's very simple."

McKinney asked whether the policy refers to employees using social media on their own time with their own equipment. Young said it doesn't.

"Unless they bring the materials from work that they got at work," he said.

Councilman Dave Nunery asked what would happen if an employee posted something on their Facebook account about their supervisor.

City Attorney John Miller said he believes the policy states that posting that information would be inappropriate.

"Are we controlling what they're doing on their own Facebook pages," McKinney asked.

Miller said the policy does that somewhat.

"I guess to a certain extent, your freedom of speech is limited, if you want to have a job," Miller said.

"I hate to use the word, but are we censoring employees?" McKinney asked.

"To a certain extent, yes," Miller said.

Nunery said he believes part of the policy could be far reaching.

McKinney said the policy states that a City employee can't post a photo of themselves in a City uniform or clothing that would reveal that they are a City employee.

"I've got some real issues as to freedom of speech and the First Amendment here," he said. "I really do."

Councilman Mike Hall Jr. asked if Campbellsville Police Chief Tim Hazlette believes the policy is needed and asked if there have been any issues arise at the police department involving social media.

"Not with my folks, that I know of yet," he said.

Hazlette said he knows that some photos of crash scenes and information only known to City employees have been posted. He said he believes that is inappropriate and the City should be concerned.

"I agree with you there, but this says, if you're proud to be a police officer, you can't post a picture of you in your uniform on your own website," McKinney said.

Hall said he hopes there will be a system to approve photos on City employee social media sites. Hazlette said there will be.

Keltner asked if Miller is comfortable with the policy from a legal standpoint.

Miller said he isn't concerned about the legality of the policy, but understands the concerns about the First Amendment.

"I don't think there would be anything illegal about it," he said.

Miller said he doesn't believe a violation of the policy would be seen as someone committing a crime, simply violating a policy.

"I think it's a legitimate and reasonable approach and I don't have a problem with it," he said.

McKinney said he agrees that the policy should be reasonable.

"I just think, as written, it goes too far," he said. "The right to criticize government, I think, is one of our most important rights in this country. People should be free and open to criticize and question government."

McKinney said he believes the policy, as written, would not stand the test of a courtroom.

Nunery said he believes that the City needs a social media policy but has some conflicting opinions about the use of the Internet for social media.

"I'm in favor of the policy," he said. "I think we'll have to wait and see what the courts say about these kinds of policies in a legal environment."

In a roll call vote, Ford, McKinney and Councilwoman Vickie Mullins voted to not adopt the policy. All other Council members attended the meeting and voted to approve it.

Several other entities in Taylor County have policies relating to Internet use and social media.

The County does not have a social media policy, but Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers said filters were installed in March 2011 on all County-owned computers to block access to social media, pornography and other sites deemed unsuitable in the Taylor County employee handbook.

Campbellsville University, Campbellsville Independent and Taylor County school systems have acceptable computer use policy for students and employees.

According to Virgil Parker, CIO at Campbellsville schools, the District's policy forbids social media use at school and strongly discourages interaction between students, faculty and staff via social media, except for teacher websites, which are monitored.

Taylor Regional Hospital adopted a social media policy in July 2010 that prohibits employees from releasing information about patients and being conscious to protect TRH's reputation, among other requirements.

The City's complete social media policy is posted along with this story at www.cknj.com.

For more from the Council's meeting, see last Thursday's issue and the upcoming Thursday, June 14, issue.

The City's complete social media policy is posted below.

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Social Media Policy.pdf71.73 KB