City of Melville to consider new social media guidelines for councillors

The City of Melville is considering an update of its Legal Representation Policy.
The City of Melville is considering an update of its Legal Representation Policy.

A NEW policy that provides “guidance and direction” to Melville councillors using social media should be beefed up before it is passed, according to the Melville Residents and Ratepayers Association (MRRA).

The crux of the draft document, put before councillors at an agenda briefing Tuesday night, centres on reinforcing to elected members the professional role they are in.

In the guidelines, councillors are asked to label online posts as personal views and not those of the City, avoid offensive, defamatory, and intimidating language and maintain a positive and respectful tone.

“The intent of this policy is not to stifle the use of social media, but rather to ensure that comments, likes, posts and the use of all forms of online and social media by elected members align with the adopted policies of the council…” the draft policy reads.

It will also help ensure posts “are thoughtful, well-reasoned and responsible communications suited to (councillors’) professional position and standing in the community”.

But a MRRA spokesman argued it could go further.

He said MRRA believed it had come under attack online from associates of councillors and even family of elected members, suggesting “the policy should contain some very express guidance” for partner of councillors.

He also said considered comments were often deleted from council-related pages, including the City’s, if they offered a point of view that did not align with the status quo.

“We believe in freedom of speech. We believe that it’s good to see opposing views and to hear the different perspectives from many people,” he said.

“By shutting that down on Facebook pages controlled by the City and councillors we believe that stifles that discussion.”Just how councillors would be punished for stepping out of line was something a number of councillors said could be considered.

MRRA’s spokesman suggested a policy where a standards committee complaint is triggered automatically if a ratepayer takes issue with a councillor’s conduct online .

“If the council is very serious about controlling themselves and want some incentive to maintain a reasonable standard of conduct on social media, that is an option for council to consider,” he said.

While not necessarily agreeing with that point, councillors including Nick Pazolli, Katy Mair and Karen Wheatland said the item required work.

Chief executive Shayne Silcox said councillors have an opportunity to build on the item when it is put to them officially on February 20.

Any sourness between councillors and ratepayers is in no way a one way street.

Local Government Minister David Templeman revealed in October he had been shocked by reports of online bullying and a lack of respect by both candidates and community members in the lead up to local council elections.

He said a code of conduct for councillors was part of a review of the Local Government Act.

Crs Steve Kepert and Karen Wheatland are two to address the social media minefield publicly in recent times.

Cr Wheatland said she removed comments from her official page in the lead-up to the October election “for self preservation”.

“It’s no secret of mine that I was a target,” she said on Tuesday.

“Lots of us were because that’s the nature of the beast.”

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