April 24th, 2024

Council updates city’s social media policy

By COLLIN GALLANT on March 19, 2024.

Coun. Allison Knodel speaks during Monday night's city council meeting. Council re-entered closed session meeting at the end of the open portion at city hall. Council members were not available to speak by press time.--News Photo Collin Gallant

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

City Hall has a new social media policy that officials say is aimed at beefing up security of the civic accounts rather than shutting down dissent or controlling employees’ personal accounts.

Council endorsed the policy on Monday, updating one approved in 2011.

The change will outline “good practice” for employees under general employment terms in how they represent the city, said communications officials, but generally create protected secure use of the medium.

“We wanted to ensure that all accounts that are managed by city employees are set up in a secure way,” said corporate communications manager Coleen Graham.

“Cyber security is a growing issue and we want to safeguard against potential hacking that could cause us reputational risk.”

As for social media leading to somewhat anti-social interactions, Graham said the department handles the issue on an operational level.

“We have recently updated our ‘terms of engagement’ for social media,” she said.

“We remind followers that we expect a certain code of conduct, and I’m sure people in the community (have seen) and we have seen conversations go sideways with misunderstanding. Sometime we’ll try to correct information … sometimes we choose not to dive in any further. It’s, again, about striking a balance.”

Over the course of 10 years, said Graham, some accounts went dormant, others were set up incorrectly when the technology was somewhat new, and several had universal passwords that were well-known. That led the potential for former employees to have access, and an inability to track who was posting what on the platforms.

Currently the city has three social media accounts related to municipal operations, including Facebook, X (formerly known as Twitter) and LinkedIn, a business networking site.

Some departments, such as economic development, the Esplanade, Big Marble Go Centre and tixx.ca also use social media to promote programs and offerings.

The policy stretches over those accounts, but also outlines some potential problems that employees may face.

Mayor Linnsie Clark asked administrators if city unions had provided input while the policy was developed, but was told it goes only so far as to point out other terms of employment. Out-of-scope employees and managers are subject as well.

Corporate services managing director Dennis Egert said the city already has conflict of interest guidelines that might be applicable in some situations.

In terms of the policy extending to contractors or groups that provide services in city spaces or on behalf of the city, Coun. Alison Van Dyke asked how far out the policy could extend.

She was told that in terms of contractors performing work for the city that identify as a separate entity, like a construction firm, they aren’t generally identified as part of the city, but contract employees likely would.

“We’ve tried to strike a balance between an employee’s personal right to use social media in their own time, but with employee expectations that they should consider,” said Graham. “Certainly we’re not trying to impose any big restrictions, but we want them to me mindful that, even on their own platforms, they still represent the city. The use of information that they might have access to; they may want to mindful of that.”

Whistleblower policy soon

Administrators are preparing to bring forward a whistleblower protection policy next month, allowing employees to circumvent the chain of command in order to report managers or fellow employees.

That was said during general debate on changes to the city’s procurement bylaw, which would remove the requirement of the mayor to sign all city contracts, instead placing the authority in the hands of top administrators.

Mayor Linnsie Clark told council she would be “more comfortable” with the change if it was accompanied with the whistleblower policy as a layer of protection for the city.

Administrators told council that specific department heads, the city solicitors office and the division’s managing director already and still would examine contracts, but the change could speed up payments.

As well, city manager Ann Michell said the whistleblower policy, whereby an employee could report suspicions of wrong doing without fear of reprisal, would be finalized next week. It could go to council for approval in April.

Council approved the change 7-1 with Clark voting against, though she did not block third reading, which required unanimous consent.

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