Winnsboro proposing social media policy for city officials

WINNSBORO, Texas (KETK) - Facebook and Twitter have become a vital communication tool in all aspects of our lives. That also means it can be used for government outreach. The City of Winnsboro is trying to create a social media policy, but not without some controversy.

The city said developing a policy would help prevent potential violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act. However, some people in that community aren't happy about that decision and they're turning to Facebook to speak their mind. 

"We encourage transparency, we want council members and staff, for that matter, to be able to talk to the citizens and hear the citizens concerns so we can help address those, but we just have to be very careful about the way that we do it," said Winnsboro City Manager Craig Lindholm.

The city has not adopted a communications policy yet. 

"This is up to the council to revise up until the time they vote and even at the time they vote, they can amend it," said Lindholm.

Citizens and even a council member have posted their concerns online. Katy Perez, city councilwoman, said on Facebook she fears the "proposal is an attempt to force conformity and silence voices rather than foster balance and transparency."

Lindholm said if three or more council members were to get on a social networking site and engage in conversation about city business, it could be a violation of the Open Meetings Act. He said the purpose of the policy is to protect the council from potential criminal penalties. 

Perez said using caution, being mindful of the law and never engaging in deliberations online with fellow council members is not difficult for her. 

People we spoke with said, either way, social media has gotten out of hand.

"People can get on and say whatever they want to without any guidelines, without a filter, without regard of what other people think, how they feel, how it's hurting our small businesses, affecting our town and affecting our city council," said Winnsboro resident Heather Price. 

Citizens still want the council to know what they think and there's still plenty of time to figure out a resolution. 

"All governing bodies have operational procedures that they follow," said Lindholm. "We felt this should be something to consider." 

The council pulled the policy from the December Council agenda and will hold a special called meeting on January 25. Lindholm said this will allow the City Attorney to be present to inform the council and public about the Texas Open Meetings Act and its impact on social media, answer questions and to discuss the policy with the council and the public. They are also working to find a larger venue so more people can attend. 

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