The Echo city council is awaiting approval from their legal counsel before adopting an ethics policy and set of social media guidelines for city staff and elected officials.
The council looked over a draft of both sets of guidelines during their council meeting Thursday but tabled them until the city attorney had finished reviewing them for legal problems. They also asked that the attorney lay out options the council could pursue against someone who violated the policies.
City administrator Diane Berry said councilors have First Amendment rights, and their status as elected officials means that forcibly removing them from the council for misbehavior would take a citizen-initiated recall.
“You may want to adopt something so you can kick someone off of the council, but you cannot,” she said.
The idea for adopting social media policies came after councilor Lou Nakapalau made anti-gay comments on Facebook toward a gay man living in Hawaii after they disagreed about transgender rights on a public page. Nakapalau was not present at Thursday’s meeting.
Councilors said even if they couldn’t force someone to abide by the guidelines set forth in the documents, which encouraged “maturity and professionalism” in social media posts, they were still good suggestions to ask city employees and officials to consider. One line, for example, directed councilors to tell citizens making complaints to them that they would take their concerns to the rest of the council, instead of making promises or trying to speak for the entire council on the spot.
“Sounds like good things to remember,” councilor Karl Gaunt said.
Berry said much of the ethics policy was based on state laws about things like conflict of interest, and could result in fines from the state ethics commission if not followed.
During public comments at the beginning of the meeting, citizens Pam Reese and Brandi George criticized Nakapalau for not stepping down after creating the controversy. Reese said the council’s reaction, including a “quasi-apology” for anyone offended, seemed symptomatic of a larger problem of “complacency and reluctance on the part of council members to speak with conviction when discussing matters of importance during meetings.”
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