Clark County could be testing ground for social media policy
As we often do here on All Politics is Local, we turn to the controversial subject of Clark County Councilor David Madore’s Facebook page.
You know, the one that apparently isn’t subject to public records requests despite being Madore’s main way to communicate with the public? Unless, of course, you’re like me and the dozens of others who have been banned from posting or had our comments deleted.
It sounds like the lack of oversight Madore has enjoyed on his page may soon be coming to an end. At the Clark County council’s annual retreat Friday, the topic of social media came up. Deputy Prosecutor Chris Horne — who got a healthy dose of me teasing him after he called Twitter “Tweeter” — made it clear that if a councilor is going to post about county business, it’s a matter of public record that should be archived.
“Our office would like the county to consider, if there’s going to be a Facebook page in which you communicate directly with the public about matters of public concern, that they’re done on some kind of a server that the county controls so that we can preserve and protect that material,” Horne said.
I was tickled to hear Horne reference a Washington State Supreme Court decision that ruled text messages on Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist’s private cell phone are public records if they pertain to public business. Though it isn’t related to social media, Madore’s Facebook page was the first thing I thought of when this decision came out.
Councilor Julie Olson pointed out that there have been issues where councilors — though she avoided specifying who — have deleted comments, which is, of course, a challenge when you’re attempting to archive them for public records. She also pointed out that the county council’s code of ethics calls for councilors to “promote decorum, respect for others and civility in all public relationships.” When Councilor Tom Mielke challenged her on that, telling her he’s unaware that any of the councilors have done otherwise, she responded bluntly: “I might not agree with that, actually.”
Madore was silent throughout the conversation, which struck me as unusual. All five councilors use social media to some extent, but there’s no arguing that Madore is the most prolific user of Facebook. But over the weekend, Madore took to Facebook to address the issue. How very meta.
“(Friday) revealed more of our county government’s continuing transformation to the dark side by the new liberal majority on the Clark County Council helped along by our county manager and prosecuting attorney’s office,” he started.
He went on to make some pretty harsh accusations, like that his fellow councilors were advocating for control over all posts, comments and private messages in violation of his First Amendment rights.
“Notice that this Facebook page is my newspaper,” Madore said. “Freedom of the press and freedom of speech, once lost, would complete our transformation to the dark side. That will not happen on my watch – not without a fight.”
Madore, however, is not a newspaper. He’s a public official with a Facebook page branded as a newspaper where he posts county business. Though certainly entitled to First Amendment rights just like the rest of us, it seems pretty clear cut to me that his page would be subject to public records — and that the higher standard public officials are held to when they communicate with the public would apply to him.
Several hours later, Olson made a Facebook post of her own, quoting the same line from the code of ethics she did at Friday’s retreat.
“Seems to me a reasonable expectation, including FB and other social media,” Olson said.
The council ultimately didn’t make any decisions Friday, though the issue will come up at a later work session. This will definitely be one for open-government advocates to watch. This could be precedent-setting stuff.
If you want to know more about this topic, the Municipal Research and Services Center has a great overview on social media use — and let’s be honest, on all matters related to local governments — at its website. TL;DR: They too say public officials’ social media accounts should be subject to public record requests.
Coming tomorrow: Some of the comments and posts that have earned Clark County residents a spot on the banned list of Madore’s Facebook page.
I'm the education reporter at The Columbian. Get in touch at email@example.com or 360-735-4517.