The year-old social media policy in Pitt Meadows will not be changed to include the spouses of council members, it was decided Tuesday.
Couns. Tracy Miyashita and Bill Dingwall opposed the policy as too restrictive on a council member’s freedom of expression when it passed a year ago.
However, in this past week’s review of the policy, they suggested it should be expanded to include the spouses and family members of politicians.
“Or can spouses and family members tweet out or put anything on social media that they wish?” asked Miyashita.
“Does that also reflect poorly on the city?”
City communications assistant Rebecca Vaughan responded that she hasn’t seen that addressed as an industry standard or practice.
The Pitt Meadows social media policy was based on policies of New Westminster and Toronto, as well as IBM.
“Sometimes spouses have gotten involved, and it does reflect on the municipalities,” said Vaughan.
Miyashita said after the meeting that her comments referred to Mayor John Becker’s wife Terry, past president of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows chamber of commerce.
Dingwall said during council meetings, when he believes he would have been speaking, the mayor’s wife tweeted remarks such as “Blah, blah, blah …”
That tweet appears on Terry Becker’s feed on Feb. 16, which was a night council met.
“Um … when are municipal elections again? Sounds like a long campaign for one of them … ” was another tweet from that same night.
Dingwall also objected to the comment, “Can someone turn his mic off,” which she tweeted on June 21, again a council night.
Terry Becker said she apologizes if members of council feel they have been targeted by her comments.
She said the recent comment about “turn his mic off” was made in reference to her husband, because she could hear him breathing, and some of his frequent critics had made unkind remarks on social media.
“Blah, blah, blah … ” may have been to nobody in particular, she said.
Becker said she has been engaged on social media for more than a decade, in her role as former chamber president, managing her husband’s political campaign, and even teaching college courses.
“There’s a place for social media,” she said. “I don’t thing of social media as a thing, it’s a place to exchange ideas.”
“Blocking people is another form of cyber bullying.”
And Terry Becker does not believe council would be successful if it tried to include family members in its social media policy.
Dingwall, a former RCMP officer, said he complained about the tweets at the time, and asserts council should conduct its business in a “professional, respectful environment.”
He welcomes fair comment about the decisions of council, but said heckling takes away from the issues.
“It gets to a place where nobody wins,” he said.
Mayor Becker said his wife’s tweets were made during “heightened sensitivities, in the context of politically charged issues.
“I, frankly, could not understand the concerns,” said the mayor, but added that “feelings are never wrong.”
“I mentioned the concerns to my wife, and left it right there.”
Becker, a lawyer, said council’s social media policy cannot legally apply to spouses or family members.
Dingwall reiterated he feels the council policy goes too far.
“I’m very fearful about a policy that should discourage members of council from holding an opinion and communicating with the public,” he said.
Dingwall told council he will be more active on social media, Facebook and Twitter, in particular, in the future.
“We’re elected to office, we’re elected to hold an opinion, and I think it is important that we do communicate with our stakeholders,” he said.
“We have been hesitant to do that this term, because of the new policy,” she said.
She and Dingwall attempted to have a respectful workplace policy passed, but it was not supported by the rest of council.
Coun. Janis Elkerton supported the policy, and warned that online comments could put the city in legal jeopardy, facing a defamation lawsuit.
She said councillors have been members of social media sites, where it has been suggested that council members take bribes, and their participation in the site is “perpetuating that comment.”
Coun. Bruce Bell said he avoids social media, but believes the city needs a policy.
“There’s people who are keyboard cowards. They wouldn’t say it to your face. They go out there, and they are hurtful.”
He called it a form of bullying, and also supported the policy, which council reaffirmed.
Becker said council hasn’t had to refer to the new policy since its inception last September, and “probably speaks to its flexibility and effectiveness.”