In a world recently redefined by the power and prevalence of social media, members of the City Council and city staff are taking to the drawing boards to outline plans for appropriate media use by alders.

In February, the City Council Organizational Committee created a subcommittee to develop policies and guidelines regarding social media for members of the City Council.

Subcommittee member and City Council President Lauren Cnare, District 3, said the city currently has no policies regarding social media, but the lack of guidelines is an issue of concern for a number of city officials.

She said the break off group is in the process of developing clear guidelines because the council recognizes the importance of social media and its widespread and growing use. She said they expect the new policies to be completed this summer.

Administrative Assistant to the Council Lisa Veldran said one of the subcommittee’s hopes is to require alders to have a separate Facebook account set up strictly for business.

At the first meeting in February, concerns arose regarding alders and the public differentiating between personal use and alder use of Facebook pages. Veldran said there have also been concerns about complying with the open records law, which makes government-held information available to whomever seeks it.

In the past, there have been instances in which alders who have constituents as “friends” on Facebook have posted private and sometimes inappropriate information on their pages.

“We don’t want comments posted that violate our discrimination laws and other state or federal laws,” Veldran said. “They would need to be taken down.”

Veldran said the guidelines that are being created are still, in some part, adopted from the city’s web policy guidelines.

Currently, one of the only means of city communication to the public for the alders is use of the “District News” forum on the city webpage. Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said that one of the issues he has with this forum are the limitations it sets.

“For example, if there is a neighborhood meeting regarding a big issue on the university front, but not directly related on the city front, we’re not allowed to post about it,” Resnick said. “I don’t support that.”

Alders are also not currently allowed to link their own personal blog to the city homepage, and Resnick said there are other limitations regarding sites they can officially link to.

Cnare said under the new policy, the city council president, the city attorney’s office and the IT department would be responsible for oversight to ensure proper social media use.

Still, Resnick said he has concerns about the amount of oversight that is being planned.

“There is a certain level of oversight that I understand is necessary to protect the image of the city,” Resnick said. “A city blog and a personal blog should not be confused, but possibly suppressing the opinions of an alder worries me.”

Resnick said students are in search of a better resource to city information. He said the subcommittee has the tools and technology but said they are only focusing on the rules being put forth. Currently, alders only have official city email accounts for use with constituents.

Resnick said he’s shocked by how outdated the current policies are, but that he thinks the new policy is not making the necessary progress to put them at the “2011 standard.”

“The subcommittee was a good idea, but I’m not sure they’re taking the steps to get there,” Resnick said. “Sometimes technology changes overnight. We need to be looking further into the future.”

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