Discussing what appropriate use of the communication platform will be and official city councilor Facebook pages

 - The Prineville City Council underwent social media training in December. The council members are somewhat divided over use of social media, with some members using it to communicate with the public and others avoiding it. A social media policy specifically for the council is being created.

As the presence of social media increases and becomes a sounding board for citizen concerns, city officials are discussing how to best utilize the new communication option.

Up to this point, Prineville city councilors have varied wildly in their approach to Facebook. Mayor Betty Roppe prefers not to communicate on the social media site with constituents and asks people to call her by phone or visit her office to discuss issues. At the other end of the spectrum are councilors like Jason Beebe and Teresa Rodriguez, who have regularly engaged citizens on the social media platform regarding city issues and responded to criticisms and rumors as they have emerged.

However, all of this activity has taken place without any particular guideline in place to help councilors know what is appropriate and what should be avoided. That could soon change as city leaders are now developing a social media policy for the city council.

"We have talked about the social media presence and where there might be opportunities to streamline communications in general," said ShanRae Hawkins of Stingray Communications, who was hired as the city's public relations manager this past August.

Those discussions gave way to a social media training session for the council, which was held in mid-December. It examined social media use among elected officials throughout the country and what pros and cons emerged from engaging the public in that fashion.

"There have been a lot of questions from the city councilors just asking about what is appropriate and posting," Hawkins noted. "We just saw an opportunity to go over some main points. What are best practices with social media and best practices for elected officials as well?"

The training prompted the council's governance committee to consider creating a social media policy specifically for the council. A policy already exists for city staff.

Work has since begun on the policy, which Hawkins said will likely cover a lot of different topics.

"A lot of it was around social media etiquette," she said, "and then really talking about when you are posting, and you are responding on your personal page, are people under the impression you are responding as an elected official or as a citizen of the community."

To help clarify that distinction, the committee has discussed the possibility of creating official Facebook pages for each of the city councilors.

Hawkins stressed that the policy is not intended to curtail responses to the public, but rather encourage councilors to use their best judgment when they respond to a social media post or create one of their own.

"Elected officials should add value to any social media discussion (and) focus on the issue," she said, quoting some of the policy language suggested.

Councilor Teresa Rodriguez, who has frequently interacted with the public on Facebook during her 12 months on the city council, prefers to post data in response to a question or to a rumor about city activities. She will either cut and paste information from an official public source or provide a screen shot of a web page.

"My key that I use a lot is referring people to the source," she said. "That way, it is not just my opinion. I can prove my point. It's not just throwing information out the window."

Rodriguez also uses Facebook to get more citizens involved, whether it is encouraging them to attend council meetings or town halls, or to consider volunteering for a committee vacancy.

"If you really have a problem with this, have a voice, step up to the table and help," she said.

While some councilors choose not to engage the public on social media, Rodriguez feels some sort of presence is beneficial to the council.

"I don't know that we have figured out what that is, whether it be someone appointed who is active in that role, whether it's councilors," she said. "I think there is some presence of some sort needed."

Hawkins said the governance committee will review the new social media policy later this month at which time they will discuss what changes are necessary, if any.

"Once the governance committee has agreed upon the policy, they will take it to the councilors, and they will review it and decide to adopt it or not," she said.

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