By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park wants to be your friend. But it wants to stay tightly in control of the relationship.
To accomplish that, it wants to know, for example, who exactly can say exactly what? And what happens if a friend says something disagreeable? And how much is it going to cost to keep you as a friend?
No, Sonoma County’s third-largest city is not a candidate for counseling.
It’s trying to develop a policy governing how it uses social media such as Facebook and Twitter, increasingly staples of modern communication.
“If we really want to communicate with our citizens, we have to go where they are at, and where they are at is Facebook,” Information Systems Operations Manager David Rowley told the council Tuesday.
That path comes with some pitfalls, said Deputy Assistant City Clerk Terri Griffin, who with Rowley formulated a draft policy that the council reviewed.
“The use of social media does present some challenges in terms of policy and legally,” she said.
Those include free speech issues, particularly with regard to what controls the city can exert over things that people might post on the city’s yet-to-be-launched Facebook page.
The city policy would prohibit postings that contained profanity, sexual content, violated copyrights and business solicitations and allow for their removal. But posts could only be removed with the permission of the city manager.
What if someone starts making allegations or posting attacks against a city worker, Mayor Gina Belforte wanted to know.
“You can get a whole bullying thing going and I want to make sure we are protecting our city staff,” she said.
City Attorney Michelle Kenyon said if a post could be construed as threatening, it could certainly be removed. Left unclear was what might happen if postings didn’t reach that threshold.
Other issues included ensuring that the site complies with Brown Act regulations governing public meetings. The draft policy says council members and other officials “should refrain” from doing anything on Facebook or Twitter that might constitute engaging in city business.
“I’m going to be talking to the city attorney very soon about what I should or should not do,” he said.
Of relief, perhaps, to many is the provision that says Facebook posts and Twitter tweets “must avoid the use of jargon.”
Similarly optimistic was the statement by Rowley that because it is a government making use of social media, its posts will not be “verbose” or “drivel.”