Albert Rukwaro
Special to The Gardner News
Several Gardner City Council members addressed concerns raised by a resident about their use of social media to settle political scores.
Jennifer Smith, a lifelong resident, complained about the use of social media by some members of the council and requested that the city implement a social media code of conduct for council members and members of the city’s advisory committees.
“I have seen on many occasions over the last few years the postings and commenting of elected city officials using their personal pages become verbally harassing, bullying and using tactics that are embarrassing to the citizens of Gardner,” she said in a statement she read during the July 16 council meeting.
“There should be a level of decorum within our city leadership that is above petty name calling, memes and posts that are there for all to see. As leaders of this community, one should set a standard of behavior that is representing all of Gardner and not provoke, threaten or demean the citizens,” she said.
Smith, who included in her statement a copy of the National League of Cities document on building local government social media policies, noted that the city of Gardner has an established code of conduct policy on social media usage by city employees and wondered why such a policy has not been developed for elected officials.
“Having council members personally attack others on social media should not be something anyone should see or even have to endure,” she said.
Reacting to the comments, Rich Melton, council member alluded he’s one of the offending members, saying he has been offending people long before he got elected to the council. After the last meeting, Melton posted a picture of the mayor’s face superimposed over the cowardly lion from Wizard of Oz.
“I have been offending people before I got here,” he said. “What would be the point of having a code of conduct if we don’t even enforce the rules of the governing body? That’s my two cents.”
Mark Baldwin, councilman, saying he was commenting on the social media usage, faulted the mayor for relying on the Roberts Rules of Order handbook in dismissing a motion to censure Randy Gregoryck, councilman, during the last council meeting.
Steve Shute, mayor, defended his decision to rely on the handbook saying that in the absence of clear guidance from the governing body procedures, the handbook was the only viable option.
“Let’s change the rules, so we don’t have to use the Roberts handbook to modify the governing body’s procedures in the future,” said Baldwin.
Lee Moore, councilman, said the failed censure motion was not meant to be punitive but a mere acknowledgement that there was questionable conduct by a councilmember that deviated from the rules.
“Reliance on Roberts Rules to dismiss the censure motion was not necessary,” he said.
Shute disagreed saying the censure motion had political and punitive implications.
The council did not rule on whether a social media policy for elected officials will be developed.