Mind the Facebook and the tweets, and follow modus operandi

Clark County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chris Horne, who serves as counsel to the Clark County commissioners, gave a crash course on how to avoid “bad” and “unwanted” press during the commissioners’ retreat Thursday.

Horne’s message: follow the rules.

Most of the information presented was pretty simple. Still, some was a bit esoteric. But don’t take my word for it, here is what was discussed.

Open meetings: If a meeting isn’t considered an executive session, it’s open. That means notice it, keep it open and stay on topic.

Horne made a point that because there are just three commissioners, a quorum can be created when just two of them start talking county business.

“But not every meeting you have together is a public meeting,” Horne said. “Unless you take up public issues…The ultimate warning is just that because of the few number of commissioners we have we have to be careful of how we communicate in the hallway, how we communicate socially.”

In other words, Horne is pleased with the current modus operandi followed by the county, and he wants to see it continue.

Social media: The county keeps a record of what commissioners and public information officers post to the public. That includes text and screen captures to preserve the content, as Horne says, in its “native state.”

A big talking point here is Horne wants commissioners to notify staff of activity on their public profiles.

Also, Horne said it would be wise of commissioners to avoid talking with one another via Facebook or Twitter.

I’m not an expert on which commissioners are doing what online, but here are some quick links if you want to check out your commissioners online:

David Madore: Facebook, Twitter.

Tom Mielke: Facebook.

Steve Stuart: Facebook.

Avoid quasi-judicial discussions: Mostly this focuses on very limited land use discussions. If commissioners are preparing to take up a land use decision that affects a single landowner, they need to avoid talking about how they intend to vote. They also should let the public know if they had such talks.

It’s an extremely nuanced situation, and Horne said he would write up an official memo explaining it further.

“There are very few situations where you act in that capacity,” Horne said.

Ethics of office: Commissioners shouldn’t take gifts which could interfere with their judgement. If they have business relationships where they have a stake in the outcome of a vote, they don’t vote.

Horne points out that some relationships are considered ”remote” and should be mentioned, but would not preclude a commissioner from voting.

Erik Hidle

Erik Hidle

Erik Hidle covers Clark County government for The Columbian. He can be followed on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ehidle, on Twitter at @col_clarkgov or contacted by email at erik.hidle@columbian.com

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