Thursday, October 21, 2021
45.0°F

Social media use under Kalispell council spotlight again

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | April 12, 2021 12:00 AM

There’s only one item on the agenda for the Kalispell City Council’s work session tonight, but all indicators point to a lively conversation. The council will reopen a discussion that began in February regarding social media use by elected members of the council.

Representatives from the Montana Local Government Center and the Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority, the city’s liability coverage provider, will offer their input about social media usage and Montana open meeting laws.

Many in city government are no doubt eager to hear expert opinions on elected officials’ responsibilities and limitations for using platforms such as Facebook.

The topic came up in February when council member Ryan Hunter attracted attention for offensive comments left by members of the public on his Facebook page. Some of his fellow council members urged Hunter to discontinue use of the page as a result of the inappropriate commentary.

During a work session on the issue, City Manager Doug Russell said city councilors could be in danger of violating Montana’s open meeting laws through their use of social media. Social media posts about public matters run the risk of excluding members of the public from official government processes, he explained.

But Hunter maintained an alternative interpretation of open meeting laws and refused to stop his social media activity. Hunter asserted social media is a means of disseminating information to his constituents.

Following the heated debate at the February work session, Hunter made changes to parts of his Facebook page. For instance, in his “about” section, Hunter added, “Opinions I share represent my personal views and don't represent those of the City of Kalispell or the Kalispell City Council.”

Hunter has since continued to use the Facebook page, even though some of his colleagues were adamant he should stop posting there.

It’s expected the representatives invited to the work session will provide further clarity to the council on the acceptable way to navigate social media as an elected leader.

According to the work session agenda, there’s the possibility the work session could lead to changes in the city’s official policies regarding social media use.

The agenda states, “at the meeting, it is recommended that council review and discuss these matters and consider amending our Policy and Procedures for the Kalispell City Council, which was adopted in 2013, if desired.”

The work session starts at 7 p.m.

To join the video conference, visit https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_-jdNph1DROO4-CJe1OZdxw.

To submit written public comment, email publiccomment@kalispell.com.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at 758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.