City of South Pittsburg bans negative comments

City of South Pittsburg bans negative comments

December 14th, 2014 by Ryan Lewis in Local Regional News

Billy Gouger

Billy Gouger

 

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Over the past year, city leaders say their work has been hampered by criticism and lies on social media.

At its December meeting, the South Pittsburg City Commission voted 4-1 to approve an "all-inclusive" social networking policy.

It applies to all city elected representatives, appointed board members, employees, volunteers, vendors, contractors and anyone associated with the town in an official capacity who uses social networks. The policy says those persons can't post anything negative about the city, its employees or other associates.

Examples include posted videos, blogs, online forum discussions, Facebook and Twitter, Commissioner Jeff Powers said.

"It seems like every few meetings we're having to address something that's been on Facebook and created negative publicity," he said. "This is just an industry standard nowadays."

He said every city employee will have to sign an acknowledgement of the policy, and those who violate it can be reprimanded.

Commissioner Paul Don King voted against the policy but said he can see both sides of the argument.

"But what we [the board] are trying to say is that if I'm a city employee, you're trying to tell me what I can say at night," he said. "I call that freedom of speech. I can't understand that."

Powers said the policy doesn't forbid the use of social media, and it can be amended in the future.

"The first thing everyone wants to say is 'I can't post anything on Facebook.' Well, you can. Just not [anything] that sheds a negative light on any person, entity, board or things of that nature. You can go ahead and post all you want."
Commissioner Jeff Powers

"The first thing everyone wants to say is 'I can't post anything on Facebook,'" he said. "Well, you can. Just not [anything] that sheds a negative light on any person, entity, board or things of that nature. You can go ahead and post all you want." 

City Attorney Billy Gouger said the new policy is not intended to infringe on anyone's right to free speech.

"What this policy tries to do is reconcile that right with other rights," he said. "It does, to some extent, limit your ability to criticize or comment in an official capacity."

The policy encourages those people to separate themselves privately from their position with the city, Gouger said.

It is intended to "minimize personal attacking" and "showing people in a negative light," Powers said.

"Criticism is one thing," Mayor Jane Dawkins said. "Out-and-out lies and untruths -- that's another thing. Those kinds of things are the things that will be directed."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com