Constituent policy

Greater Sudbury councilors approve social media policy

“We need to eliminate this gray area by prohibiting advisors from posting content about their positions on sites they profit from”

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The City of Greater Sudbury is taking a big step into the future.

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At the last council meeting, members voted unanimously in favor of implementing a social media policy, which will guide councilors as they navigate the digital sphere.

Ward 1 County Mark Signoretti and Ward 6 Coun. René Lapierre originally introduced a motion last fall, asking staff to chart a way forward.

Both advisers said they noted a lack of consistency and confusion around the proper protocol — not all council members maintained a social media presence and those using the tools in different ways.

They said last year they were bringing the motion forward to encourage “openness, transparency and good conduct” from their peers and to ensure no one financially benefits from their position on the council.

“We are elected representatives, but we have to play by the same rules,” Signoretti said. “We all get feedback from voters that may not be supportive or may seem unfair, but we put ourselves in that position. You take the good, the bad and the ugly.

While Signoretti and Lapierre said they had no problem with advisers making money from social media, both said they shouldn’t marry the personal and the political.

“When the content of these social media relies on the position of their adviser, it has entered a gray area,” Signoretti said in October. “We need to eliminate this gray area by prohibiting advisors from posting content about their positions on sites they profit from.”

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While Ward County 11. Bill Leduc asked for a postponement — he said the next council should formalize the way forward — his peers disagreed, and the council voted to enact the policy.

Ward 5 County. Robert Kirwan, who has been in hot water with the Integrity Commissioner over his use of Facebook, endorsed the social media policy.

“Much of the proposed policy appears to have been taken directly from the terms and conditions that my wife and I have maintained for our Valley East Facebook group for over 12 years. I am extremely happy to see that these standards are going to apply to all city councilors in the future,” Kirwan said in June in a column published in The Star.

“I’m so thrilled with the policy that I’m going to ask to be the mover of the motion. My wife even asked if she could support the motion. She thought that since the Integrity Commissioner indirectly reprimanded her for creating a second Facebook account to help run our site, she should qualify as a seconder of the motion. I told him that I didn’t think the city clerk would approve.

Although there has been significant contention around the council table for some years – Ward 7 Coun. Mike Jakubo cited it as one of the reasons he is not seeking re-election – the policy should promote unity among the cohort, police said.

“It is essential that residents understand and trust the decision-making process of their elected representatives,” the policy states. “While individual members are not required to accept all decisions made by the board, they must accurately and adequately communicate information about those decisions when using social media.

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“Members shall not disparage any debate or decision or otherwise erode the authority of the board. Members should clearly identify where they are expressing personal opinions, and not necessarily the opinions of the city. »

The social media policy – ​​an appendix to the code of conduct – will be overseen by Robert Swayze, the city’s integrity commissioner. In September 2019 and again in September 2021, Swayze recommended that Kirwan be reprimanded for his online behavior; the board accepted both times and issued the reprimands.

(Swayze also investigated Ward 3 Councilor Gerry Montpellier twice, but those reports weren’t about social media).

More recently, it was discovered that Kirwan and his wife, Valerie, were using a fake Facebook account under the name Jessie Timmons to administer their Valley East group, which has over 19,000 members, and to engage members. They hadn’t specified that Jessie Timmons was an extension of House Kirwan.

In 2019, Swayze delivered a report to the board in which he said Kirwan had gone too far over the line. He pointed to three specific statements Kirwan made in the Valley East group — one against David Robinson, an economics professor at Laurentian University; another against Tom Price, an adviser to the Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini and virulent critic of many municipal decisions; and a third against an anonymous individual who participated in the Greater Sudbury Politics Facebook group.

Swayze accused the counselor of being rude and harassing towards the three people.

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Kirwan said he hoped moving forward, the new policy will ensure discussion on any social media site is “constructive and does not include personal attacks, discrimination, harassment, bullying or insults”.

Kirwan suggested this might mean more work for some advisers — not everyone administers their space as closely as he and his wife do — but it will ensure that accurate and factual information is shared with the public.

“Advisors will not only be held responsible for material we post, we will also be responsible for material created by others. This will include comments and sub-comments,” he stressed.

“As it stands, some advisers avoid making personal attacks or insults themselves, but they leave these types of messages or comments if they are written by others. This will no longer be allowed. »

[email protected]

Twitter: @marykkeown

Facebook: @mkkeown

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