Social media policy, BGC take new tracks 

Staff Writer

West Point city workers may have to watch their behavior on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram but it will be at least another month before they have a city policy to guide them.

Meanwhile, the Boys and Girls Club planned for West Point and Clay County is taking a different track, but it may ultimately make the project more successful.

After two months of studying whether to adopt the social media policy used by the city of Columbus, West Point Selectmen Tuesday night said they agreed with the need for a policy but wanted one that better suits the city's needs.

"I have some concerns about this policy. I'd rather it mirror more of the things in the employee handbook rather than go above and beyond," Ward 1 Selectwoman Leta Turner said, noting she thought it had some shortcomings such as not addressing people who made up fictitious pages and used them against city workers.

"I agree with our employees cooperating once something has been reported, but I am concerned about the responsibility to report. I don't think forcing them to report something is right," added Ward 3 Selectman Ken Poole, who is a former city police officer. "My concern with the whole policy is I don't want big government taking over."

And Ward 5's Jasper Pittman noted the policy comes close to infringing on employees' First Amendment rights to free speech.

"And they could be using on their free time when they are at work. Our people do get breaks, a lunch periods. They could be using it then. I don't think we should punish them for using during those periods," Pittman stated.

City Attorney Orlando Richmond said he could see some "legitimate concerns" in the policy but said before the board went any further, it needed to decide if it wanted a policy at all. Most seemed in agreement with the need and will send written concerns and suggestions to Richmond, who will bring back a revised draft next month.

The board also put off a decision on what property to give to the Boys and Girls Club for a new center in the community. The Golden Triangle chapter, which has centers in Starkville and Columbus, has been working with the city to reopen a center in West Point after years of being dormant.

A building on Church Hill road was the original target but a $700,000 price tag to renovate it forced BGC organizers to seek less expensive alternatives, such as building their own facility.

They'd approached the city about Sportsman's Park on Fifth Street because it backs up to the Civic and other city property.

But Turner raised concerns, saying that site might take away from youth football teams that use the property for practice.

"I'd rather see a list of all the properties the city has so we can see our options before we start redirecting some of our existing youth programs," said Turner, who was named by Mayor Robbie Robinson to spear head discussions with BGC Executive Director Nadia Colom, who is a West Point native, about possible locations.

The board did pass a resolution of intent to make a donation to the cause but stopped short of the actual location. The resolution will make it easier for Colom and the BGC to approach potential donors while the site still is being finalized.

"After much study, it became pretty clear to our board and supporters that building our own location likely would be more financially feasible," Colom said of the change in direction.

"We think in the end, this is actually a much better opportunity rather than a setback.

"And the city has been working with us generously every step of the way and we know they will continue to. We, like Selectwoman Turner, want the best options for everyone. We all are partners in this. There are certainly some good sits that we may not be aware of," Colom continued.

City leaders also promised to get the public involved in the discussions after several members of a large crowd at Tuesday night's meeting expressed a desire for updates and input.

The Boys and Girls Club with open with summer programs in June operating out of part of Fifth Street School. Registration for those programs will open after spring break in March.

In other business, Selectmen:

-- Suspended without pay a police officer for five shifts -- 60 hours -- for violation of department policies. The decision came after a 40-minute presentation from Police Chief Avery Cook

-- Hired two cashiers at the Electric Department on a full-time temporary basis. One clerk recently left without giving any notice and the city hopes to hire the best of the two new ones on a permanent basis.