by Rick Langenberg:
Wild times in GMF
In a wild, raucous meeting that brought several visits to the council table by the head police chief to cool tempers, the Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees last week agreed to put a muzzle on their mayor.
And in another controversial move, the council, despite strong outcries from the public, denied a bid by Marshal Tim Bradley to allow his agency to operate with the assistance of a service dog (see related story).
Based on the atmosphere displayed at the June 4 session, it’s safe to say that previous promises about a more cooperative board have been thrown out the window. About the only issue the council fully supported unanimously dealt with the new town hall project.
Tensions quickly mounted last week when the board of trustees sought to finalize their electronic media policy, a subject that ignited a firestorm last fall, resulting in the walkout of several council members. At that time, most elected leaders objected to having their meetings taped, or filmed, period, unless staunch guidelines were enacted. Oddly enough, the new policy represents a 360-degree turn from a previous proposal with the town originally opting to take a hands-off stand and preferring to let third party operators tape, do live streaming and film their regular meetings for the benefit of residents wanting to view these forums on the Internet.
Now, with financing provided from a company owned by Trustee Howard Price, the town of Green Mountain Falls will completely run its own show.
But it comes with a big catch: No questionable postings from city elected leaders and employees and much more control. The new policy even lists the dos and don’ts for elected officials and employees regarding social media posts and their roles in informing the public as city representatives. It even suggests that elected officials can’t communicate with the media and must go through a public information officer. That is an unprecedented policy for Green Mountain Falls and one that has backfired in the past for other governments like Teller County and even Colorado Springs. “This will be an official GMF website,” said Price. “If you want to know the truth, go to the website.” The new site is being crafted by Cameron Thorne, who serves on the planning commission and has played a big role in developing websites for the community.
Price got much support from most of the trustees. Mayor Lorrie Worthey, though, strongly objected and referred to the new policy as nothing more than a plan to shut her down. “I will become the most censured mayor in the country,” blasted Worthey. “It isn’t appropriate. This is about being censored.”
Moreover, the mayor questioned if her fellow trustees are trying to assume the role as the new media “God” under the policy. She believes the new electronic media resolution will only lead to litigation. Worthey has developed a reputation for compiling somewhat controversial social media posts regarding other members of the board and city issues. Some civic leaders have viewed these posts as over the top.
During last week’s debate, her fellow trustees indicated that they are tired of personal attacks. The most frank description of the situation came from new trustee Margaret Peterson. “Stop with the pitch fork,” said Peterson. She admitted that some of the provisions in the new media policy are unfortunate, and conveyed the importance of “playing well with others…This is business. This is not personal,” said Peterson.
Similar sentiments were echoed by Trustee Jane Newberry, who played a big role in developing the policy. “It is not a matter of being sued,” said Newberry in replying to the mayor. “We are ruled by law.” “I will not stand for personal attacks,” added Price.
Trustee and former mayor Tyler Stevens, who often sides with Worthey on key issues, stated he didn’t have a problem with the overall policy, but expressed concerns about the details provided. He believes the trustees will probably have to frequently amend this policy.
Under the new policy, elected officials are advised to show caution towards social media posts and to “use common sense and good judgment, be accurate, be respectful, be transparent and heed boundaries.” It also lists some strong language that is much different from a previous electronic media ordinance, including, “Officials and employees (of GMF) should ensure that views expressed on social media are personal and not those of the municipality or of any other person or organization affiliated or doing business with the municipality. Social media users are personally responsible for the content of their own electronic postings unless they are acting as an employee within their authorized duties. Social media users can, at times, be held personally liable for damages resulting from their postings.”
It’s still unclear what happens if elected leaders don’t follow the mandate.
As for following this policy, Worthey had one reply, “No Way.” But in a cautionary note, she stated that her future posts would not be done under the authorship of the mayor of Green Mountain Falls.
And prior to the final vote, the council appeared on the verge of a fist fight, with voices rising, council members frequently interrupting each other, as the mayor frequently struck the gravel in an attempt to restore order.
A crowd of residents, who attended the meeting, found themselves, shaking their heads and wondering if they were watching a reality television show. Bradley approached the table and requested a five-minute intermission to cool tempers. But the trustees opted for no delays in the proceedings. Price demanded a vote and the new policy was approved by a 6-1 tally.