City's social media policy dead for now

Two months after it surfaced, a proposed social media policy providing direction for West Point city employees apparently has died for now. (courtesy)
Staff Writer

Two months after it surfaced, a proposed social media policy providing direction for West Point city employees apparently has died for now.

Mayor Robbie Robinson first proposed the policy in January in a "proactive" attempt to get ahead of any problems before they arose.

"If we are going to participate in social media, if we are going to use it, then we have to have a policy to control it," Robinson said at the time, referring to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media platforms.

The policy was modeled after one used by the city of Columbus, which has disciplined several employees for violations.

West Point Selectmen briefly discussed the policy at their February meeting, delaying any action to give them a chance to send written concerns and questions to City Attorney Orlando Richmond. But the policy didn't show up on the board's study session agenda Monday night or board agenda Tuesday night.

When questioned, selectmen offered a variety of responses. but none indicated they had much interest in the policy.

"Haven't heard a peep, not a word," Richmond said when asked if any selectmen had contacted him with any thoughts on the policy.

"I don't know, you'll have to ask other selectmen," Ward 4 Selectman Keith McBrayer said.

"Yes, that was supposed to come up," Ward 5's Jasper Pittman said, brushing it aside.

"Eh?" Ward 1 Selectman Leta Turner joked, cupping her hand to her ear acting as if she couldn't hear the question.

Robinson said he hasn't gotten a sense the board has "any stomach" for the issue.

"I fear we'll have to deal with it at some point," he stated. "I think the selectmen would rather leave the issue up to department heads at this point."

When first brought up, city employees and selectmen raised questions about specifics and potential punishments. As drafted, the policy applied to personal and city-managed social media sites and particularly warns emergency responders their conduct on those sites can be detrimental or damaging to the city because they come into frequent contact with the public.

Last month, West Point police officers went through a four-hour ethics seminar that addressed those and similar issues.

City leaders said the policy sets standards and each department head addresses violations and discipline based on the situation, their department and their own internal rules.

That's the way Columbus handles discipline and police officers can face harsher punishment than public works employees. Columbus penalties have ranged from three-day suspensions to termination, depending on the infraction.

The West Point Police Department has a matrix that outlines discipline for policy violations and that matrix could be integrated with the social media policy.

"The policy lists discipline as 'up to termination,'" Robinson said of then intent of the now-dead proposal. "It is designed to leave department heads flexibility within their own departments."