Coun. Corisa Bell thinks it is possible to tweet and post to Facebook and still participate in a council meeting, and that Maple Ridge should move into the digital age.
She recently put forward a motion to have the district’s social media policy reviewed. That’s now under way, with recommendations expected in the new year.
Bell got the topic on to the agenda Monday after asking to put her Twitter identification on her district business cards.
But she’s been told that’s against council policy.
Instead, only councillors’ e-mail addresses and phone numbers appear on the cards.
Bell says that other municipalities allow politicians to add their social media identification.
“For two years now, they have not allowed us to put our social media on our business cards,” Bell said.
“It’s ridiculous we can’t put the way we communicate on our business cards. In my personal opinion, they’re missing out. That’s how people are communicating today.”
Bell also wanted to send out a notification via Twitter and Facebook during a council meeting about recent changes to medical marijuana laws.
But that was voted down.
Bell says the district is over controlled and that it is too focused on legal concerns if councillors make personal comments.
She favours allowing councillors to occasionally tweet and post to Facebook during council meetings.
She added it’s not important whether she can do that, but, “I do find it insulting and interesting that people say you can’t do more than one thing at once. I don’t think they should be able to control that.”
Each councillor communicates in his or her own way, she added.
“If we’re not able to engage the public and give our personal opinions, then what is the point in having elected officials? If we just want to hear from the corporation, then just have the bureaucrats run the community. What’s the need for an elected official if you’re not offering something as an individual?”
While other councillors say there’s no intent at limiting what councillors can individually tweet or post, Bell says that was the direction of comments at council’s meeting.
“They really just don’t believe that there’s a benefit to social media,” Bell said of council colleagues.
“You have to believe that you have elected officials who know how to self monitor and know what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate.”
Mayor Ernie Daykin said councillors should keep their private and municipal media apart.
“I don’t think my personal Facebook account should be on [district] business cards. There needs to be a bit of separation between your personal stuff and your corporate stuff.”
However, the district’s Facebook account can go on a councillor’s card, he added.
Daykin said there’s no thought of restricting how councillors use social media, as long as it doesn’t take place during a council meeting.
Similarly, council spectators are welcome to tweet or post on Facebook from meetings.
He said a few weeks ago Bell posted on Facebook during a meeting.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for councillors to be Tweeting or posting to Facebook during council meetings. How can you pay attention … if you’re posting or tweeting, that’s my opinion.”
The district needs to use a variety of media to get out its message, the mayor added.
He has no problem with councillors posting on their own accounts outside of a meeting.
“We’re not hooligans. We’re not hoods. We’re not dinosaurs. Social media is here to stay. It’s a useful tool. It does keep me in touch.”
While councillors all use iPads at meetings, Coun. Cheryl Ashlie says she doesn’t send out tweets during meetings.
“We’re going to look for a code of conduct that goes on at our meetings,” Ashlie said.
“We don’t want people [councillors] tweeting and on Facebook during our meetings.”
She doesn’t have a Facebook account because that could mean only certain people would receive her comments.
“All of that stuff has to be accessible to the public,” Ashlie said.
“It’s about informing the public about the facts. The debate I think should be in a public forum, where everybody can access it.”
Currently, councillors don’t post or tweet on the District of Maple Ridge accounts because of the risk of commenting when they shouldn’t or giving inaccurate information.
Ashlie added that perhaps district communications staff could post or tweet the proceedings of a meeting while it’s underway.
Ashlie said she’ll send out personal tweets from her own phone, but recognizes she never stops speaking as an elected official.
“Once a councillor, always a councillor.”
Earlier this year, Maple Ridge won a Union of B.C. award for its social media policy for its communication efforts during the spring freshet.