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City of Covington Moves Forward with Plan to End Public Comments on Social Media

After backing off on a proposal to strip public comments from the City of Covington's government social media accounts, the issue was revisited on Tuesday night during the city commission's caucus meeting.

Assistant City Solicitor Michael Bartlett brought two proposed plans for changes to Covington’s social media sites that would alter the way citizens can currently interact with City Hall.

The idea of changing the current open comment policy came up a few weeks ago to help drive online conversations to a more positive message, and also to help encourage people to more directly interact with the city government, according to City Manager David Johnston.

It was also stated that public comments may have to be archived for public records purposes, requiring more monitoring and staff resources.

After further discussion by the commission, Bartlett’s two options for changes to the city’s social media policy involved either disabling commenting and responses by citizens on all third-party social media sites, or creating policies in which distracting comments or ad-like comments from citizens could be deleted.

An issue that arose from either proposal was the archiving of all current and future comments on city posts, as they are part of public records. If the city removes the commenting feature from all of their accounts, all old posts would be deleted, so they’d have to archive every post in case of future public records requests.

Commissioner Jordan Huizenga raised concerns over the cost and man-hours that would have to go into the archiving of all social media comments and potential monitoring of future comments.

Johnston said that if the city allows commenting on posts, but imposes restrictions, it would have to become the sole job of a staff member to continuously monitor up to seven government connected social media accounts.

Commissioner Tim Downing rebutted that it shouldn’t be about what is easy, but what is fair to citizens.

“I don’t understand why this is a discussion at all,” Downing said. “We’re sitting here saying we want to communicate with our residents but we’re not allowing our residents to communicate back to us using that same tool. I understand that there are limitations in place and there are things that we are going to have to deal with in order to make sure that we’re following the rules that are in place, but at the same time this is silly. We’re talking about our citizens ability to interact with us. We shouldn’t be limiting that.”

Commissioner Michelle Williams said that she doesn’t use social media to connect with the community, so this wouldn’t impact her, adding that everyone already has her number.

People in the community would also still be able to send messages to different departments via the city’s website.

Commissioners Bill Wells, Williams, and Huizenga were all in favor of the plan that called for complete removal of commenting by citizens across all social media platforms. With the majority support, it moves to next week’s regular legislative agenda.

“It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is,” Downing concluded.

Written by Carrie Crotzer, RCN contributor

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