South Pittsburg adopts new 'social networking policy' for city e - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

South Pittsburg adopts new 'social networking policy' for city employees

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SOUTH PITTSBURG, TN (WRCB) - One Marion County city is taking some heat for adopting a new social media policy, aimed at holding city employees accountable for what they say online. South Pittsburg recently passed the new resolution. Some, including at least one city commissioner, say it is an infringement on free speech.

The new resolution states the City of South Pittsburg has "an interest in cultivating and maintaining a positive presence on the internet" and that is why it is making all city employees sign an agreement saying they will abide by the new social networking policy.

"The city administrators took a lot of verbal abuse and I don't know if it's on my part or what, but people were just unhappy," says South Pittsburg commissioner Paul Don King.

King has only been in office a week and says while he was campaigning he saw some negativity about the city administration floating around online.

"It was my first meeting. I went into it blind-sighted. I never knew what was coming."

He was the only commissioner out of five to vote against the city's new 'social networking policy.'

"I just felt like freedom of speech was violated and I just thought on behalf of the city and the employees, that it wasn't a good policy," says King.

The new four page policy says in part city employees and volunteers can be held personally liable for online commentary that is "defamatory, obscene, harassing, discriminatory or libelous by any offended party, not just the city."

"I was just against more or less someone trying to tell me what to say. Like now, I'm talking to you. I'm probably the only person you'll get a hold of today," says King.

Channel 3 reached out to Mayor Jane Dawkins, who declined an on-camera interview. But she says other municipalities have similar policies.

Commissioner Jeff Powers also told us by phone the use of social media by city employees and volunteers can pose risks to the city's confidential and proprietary information, as well as its reputation.

"It is a little sad that there's so much negativity out there, that they have to try to put a law in place saying, 'only say nice things,'" says Kelly Coffman, who lives in South Pittsburg.

Residents like Coffman say it will be interesting to see how the policy is enforced.

"It seems like it would be a difficult thing to police what everyone's saying."

The new policy also requires that city employees report any violations or possible perceived violations and then the city will investigate. Possible punishment includes termination.

Channel 3 checked with the City of Chattanooga. It does not have a specific social media policy but a 'code of ethics.' A spokesperson says, "We expect city employees to act professionally, especially when they identify themselves as an employee."
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