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Council members’ posts to social media came under scrutiny at Monday’s regular meeting of the Mount Ayr city council.
“I think it would be in good interest to look into a social media policy after what happened the last few weeks,” said councilman Jordan Stewart, who asked that discussion of such a policy be added to the meeting agenda.
Stewart was referencing a Facebook message posted by councilman Ken Robertson following the special council meeting August 24 at which a motion to approve the sale of the city-owned parking lot to Hy-Vee made by Robertson died for lack of a second.
After considerable discussion at that meeting, the council eventually voted to approve the sale proposal contingent on Hy-Vee’s elimination of certain usage restrictions and the setting of a sunset on any restricted usage.
The post has since been deleted, but apparently the message had created some hard feelings in the community, including among council members who felt their intentions were misrepresented.
“There was, I believe, false or incomplete information provided to the city,” said Stewart, “and it made for a long couple of days.”
Councilman Brad Elliott agreed with Stewart’s point.
“I think discussions are dealt with at the table,” he said, “and when we don’t agree, we don’t agree.”
Elliott referenced a similar situation from the recent past when he, councilman Mack Greene and former councilman Don Solliday had voted against moving forward with a new swimming pool.
“I think Facebook is great for information, baby pictures, and telling people happy birthday,” he said, “but it’s also grounds to create epistemic bubbles that feed off only the information they’re given… It’s a cancer to a small community when it’s not used to conduct in a positive manner.”
Council member Brent Ricker concurred with Stewart and Elliott.
“All I know is I was up to one o’clock in the morning on the telephone with a whole bunch of different people,” he said. “I lost a half a day of work the next day over that comment.”
Quoting from the original post, Stewart said he felt the post left the false impression the council was against the sale, adding at no time was he ever against the sale of the parking lot to Hy-Vee.
“We’re in this together to better our community as a whole, not to divide it,” he said. “And that’s exactly what happened that day.”
“No it didn’t,” replied Robertson. “It brought the community together to get the sale going and going in the right direction. Without that, it might not happen.”
“Everybody in this room sticks their neck out for the city,” said Elliott. “And just the respect of each other’s opinions and differences is, at the end of the day, all that we have… we respect each other.”
Robertson pledged to be more cognizant of the potential effect of his future posts.
“I’ll do my best to calm down because I know it’s about me,” he said. “I understand that, and I’ll do my best … and make sure it’s right.”
Prior to the discussion, city superintendent Brent Wise had distributed social media policies from two other cities.
Mayor Steve Fetty warned, however, that such policies were difficult to enforce.
The meeting adjourned with no formal action taken toward a new social media policy at this time.