Some fresh faces in Flower Mound thinks it’s a good idea to create a policy aligning the social media practices of town ambassadors with the good of the town.
Councilman Brian Rountree, along with Councilman Kevin Bryant – who brought the matter to the council dais – suggested that it would be to the benefit of Flower Mound to create a safeguard of sorts when it comes to how social media is used by employees and appointed and elected officials.
“The problem is that, as we’ve seen, … officials … will address residents through a particular group online and the exchange gets rather heated and contorted and then the offender or person who made the original comment drops off and refuses to comment further,” Rountree said. “And so everyone is left wondering if that’s the official town comment on this story.”
Not all of the council was in agreement with the idea of crafting a social media policy.
“I struggle with this idea,” Councilman Bryan Webb said. “Especially for elected officials. I struggle with trying to figure out the ‘or else’ for an elected official because I think the public ultimately has that responsibility when the next election comes around.”
Bryant suggested that having a clear social media policy would also protect the interests of the town in terms of records and sensitive information. There are times when there needs to be a clearer line drawn between what is an official communication and what is a personal note, he said.
Both Hayden and Rountree operate Facebook pages where town matters are frequently discussed and debated.
Flower Mound In Focus is run by Hayden where town issues are discussed and Hayden posts town facts and answers questions about town issues. Meanwhile, Rountree is the administrator of the Facebook group page Flower Mound Vibe, where residents can discuss politics, events, school board issues, elections, traffic woes, environmental concerns and more.
According to Town Manager Jimmy Stathatos, if comments are not posted on an official town page online, that information is not considered to be official town business.
Though all noted their intent to protect First Amendment rights and not to detract from freedom of speech, Mayor Tom Hayden said he would not support a social media policy.
“I won’t subscribe to a policy that I believe is censorship,” he said. “I won’t adhere to it. I don’t really know how you can sanction or whatever. My sanction is at the voting booth. I don’t need somebody to be my father and restrict what I can say.”
Hayden asked that all members of the council be prepared at the June 15 meeting with recommendations for appointments to a potential social media committee.
Meanwhile, Stathatos has been tasked with researching which other municipalities around the country may have a similar social media policy. Town Attorney Bryn Meredith plans to have his thoughts and recommendations on the legal parameters of such a policy to the council members.