Following a querulous meeting last month, the Nelson City Council approved its Social Media policy last week during its December meeting.
The move is a response to last month’s divisive discussion regarding comments made on Facebook by council members about other council members. In an unprecedented move, during the November meeting each council member commented on particular Facebook posts at the podium, speaking as citizens. The comments were a combination of personal attacks and constructive criticism, both of which forged the new policy.
During December’s work session and meeting, Council Member Duane Cronic explained the new policy. He reminded council any comments made on social media websites, such as Facebook, are subject to the open records act, also known as Sunshine Laws.
“Anybody that responds to anything we put on it (Facebook)—they’re also subject to the open records law,”
he said. As such, the policy states any social media posts pertaining to city business must be submitted to the city and filed in compliance with the Sunshine Laws for the State of Georgia. The motion passed 3-1, Mr. Jarrett voting against the measure.
Later in the meeting, Citizen and Former Mayoral Candidate Thad Thacker mentioned section 2-47 of the city charter, suggesting that comments made during the last meeting violated this section. He requested council to read the section aloud or have City Attorney Jeff Rushbridge read it. The council and Rushbridge, however, did not respond. Council Member Jackie Jarrett then made the request in the form of a motion. The motion died on the floor for lack of a second.
In a recent correspondence with FYN week, Cronic explained that no such section of the charter exists, so he said he didn’t make a second because the motion was void due to its inaccuracy. The city code ordinance, however, does have a section labeled 2-47, which deals with decorum during public comments.
“Members of the public shall not make inappropriate or offensive comments at a council meeting and are expected to comply with rules of decorum that are established for council members. Individuals who violate any rules of the council may be ruled out of order by the chairman or on a point of order made by a council member,”
section 2-47 of the city code ordinance states. Numerous comments by citizens and council members over the last few years seemingly fall into the inappropriate category, most recently Council Members Portillo and Jarrett’s comments at the November meeting and Jarrett’s tirade toward Council Member Jonathan Bishop at the July meeting, comments which were not ruled out of order by the sitting chairman or on a point of order by a council member.
In his email this week, Cronic explained the minutiae of the situation.
“Mr. Jarrett had the option to call Mrs. Portillo out of order during her comments, but did not. Mrs. Portillo had the same right as Mr. Jarrett commented on her. Neither one of them made a point of order motion while the other one was discussing them. If the council member being discussed is not offended to the point of asking for a ruling, then I am in no position to make that determination,”
he wrote. Invoking Roberts Rules of Order (the standard guidelines for public meetings), he wrote that in accordance with Roberts Rules any council member who feels public comments are inappropriate can make a “Point of Order” motion to the presiding officer. The presiding officer then must rule on the motion.
“I am afraid public outbursts have become a common thing in Nelson. We are attempting our best to stop this, and are preparing to do so at the January meeting,”
Cronic stated. He explained that the City of Nelson has never established rules of decorum, but stated that a set of rules of decorum will be presented at the next meeting.
“If they are approved,”
“we can move forward from there with the understanding of what is expected from city officials and the public alike, including the disciplinary action of any council member that finds themselves ‘out of order.’”
Additionally Cronic wants to deconstruct the myth of the council’s divisiveness. As such he said he expanded on the council’s voting record that Mr. Bishop presented in a previous meeting to show the council is more unified than publicly perceived.
The Nelson City Council is expected to vote on new Rules of Decorum at the next council meeting.
See the city council’s voting data below:
AGREE ON 88% OF ALL ISSUES BROUGHT BEFORE THE COUNCIL (77/88 ISSUES UNANIMOUS)
DUANE 99% YES RATE ON VOTES
JONATHAN 97% YES RATE ON VOTES
JACKIE 92% YES RATE ON VOTES
MARTHA 90% YES RATE ON VOTES
EDITH 96% YES RATE ON VOTES