Bangor’s ethics watchdog group is proposing new rules about how city council members may use social media.
The city council will vet a series of proposed ordinances at the end of the month, including one that would require its members to draw a clear line when posting on social media between personal opinions and those held by the collective council.
Councilors would be required to add a disclaimer on their social media profile pages or at the top of every post that could be perceived ambiguously, characterizing it as an exclusively personal opinion, according to board Chairman Michael Alpert, director of the University of Maine Press.
The amendments also include language that explicitly prohibits council or committee members, city staff and those from whom the city contracts services from discrimination and to be “unbiased, fair, impartial” and equal in their treatment of others, and to conduct themselves in a “non-partisan manner.”
The changes and the code of ethics are “not there to stifle free speech, [but] at the same time, when a person becomes a member of city council, they have a responsibility as representatives to follow certain guidelines,” Alpert said.
The changes were not spurred by a specific incident but are part of an annual review of the ethics code, he said.
The five-person council-appointed committee is charged with policing council and city employee conduct and reviewing potential ethics violations. A council majority vote can authorize the board to examine an issue.
The changes mark the first formal action the board has taken in years, according to Alpert. In March, a Bangor Daily News article detailed how the board had not launched any ethics investigations in at least two decades.
Council members and city employees would be required to refrain from openly supporting a political party and actively participating in an election campaign without clarifying that they would be doing so as a private citizen.
Alpert said he combed through postings on every council member’s personal Facebook page that date back a year and found “no major infractions.”
“Really, all they need to do is to use prudence and have a disclaimer on their page clarifying that they’re not the official voice of the city,” he said.
Council Chairman Joe Baldacci said he doesn’t think councilors will have a problem approving the amendments.
“What [the Ethics Board] were looking for and what they offered is to seek a balance between people’s First Amendment rights and to have certain clear lines of demarcation,” he said.
Correction: Bangor City Councilors will only be responsible for posting a disclaimer if the post could be perceived as ambiguous.