Wednesday, August 2, 2017
DALLAS — Members of the Dallas City Council will not be required to abide by the same social media rules as city employees. If an Administration Committee recommendation is approved, they must “conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the dignity of their office,” but only while officially in session.
The issue was first discussed in May, when concerns were raised about comments posted on social media by councilors about other elected officials.
Committee Chairwoman Kelly Gabliks said a recommendation made in that meeting to apply the city’s employee social media policy to councilors was deemed unconstitutional by Lane Shetterly, city attorney.
At the committee’s July 24 meeting, she suggested simply adding “social media” to the council’s decorum rules.
“Instead of doing a huge social media policy, the idea is that our decorum rules already say we are not supposed to attack each other. We are supposed to stay on track in our meetings,” she said. “I’m just extending from a meeting to social media.”
That portion of the council rules currently reads: “Councilors shall, when addressing staff or members of the public, confine themselves to questions or issues then under discussion, not engage in personal attacks, shall not impugn the motive of any speaker, and shall at all times while in session, or otherwise, conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the dignity of their office.”
Her proposal would have added “other council members” after “members of the public” and “social media” after “while in session.”
Councilor Jackie Lawson objected.
“I think social media is off limits. I’m sorry. That’s my personal page. If it’s the public office page, that’s different,” Lawson said. “But my personal page … I have no intentions of doing that, but I see no reason whatsoever to create policy to dictate what I do in my personal time.”
Councilor Jennie Rummell said the phrase “or otherwise” suggested social media without mentioning it, so that wording wasn’t needed.
Lawson said she objected to “or otherwise” as well, even though it was already part of the rules, saying that influences what she could say when not serving in her elected capacity. She suggested the rule just read “while in session.”
“I just feel more comfortable,” she said. “We are going to start focusing on making this so broad that I will be afraid to speak in public because someone may get their feathers ruffled, and I don’t want to create bigger problems.”
Rummell said when she attended a training session for new councilors, they were advised that councilors should be careful how they conduct themselves, even when not on official business.
“They actually specifically told us, once you are a councilor, you are always a councilor,” she said. “Anything you say or do in public reflects on that you are a councilor. Something to think about, maybe everyone can go to it at some point.”
Council Ken Woods Jr. agreed.
“When you are an elected official, you give up a lot of rights. We live in a glass house in a small community. They watch what you eat at restaurants,” he said. “Why do you only have to be a good person while in session?”
Lawson proposed a motion to include “other councilors,” but strike “or otherwise.”
The motion passed 3-2, with Gabliks and Woods voting “no.” That recommendation will now go to the full council for consideration.