CLARKS GREEN — The ethics and legality of a council member’s use of the borough’s official Facebook page were called into question by a resident at the council’s regular meeting March 21.
“I don’t want to be a jerk about this, so I’m going to say it as nicely as possible,” began Christina Wolfe as she stepped up to the podium during public comment. “I would like the Facebook page to be a professionally government-run Facebook page, and no more links – that’s what I would like.
“This month there were 33 Facebook posts through the government page – 33. Nineteen of them were not government related. I don’t know how else to put this, but it’s just not appropriate to put forth opinion pieces and political posts. …If it was through a personal page, no problem. If it was a council member speaking on behalf of themselves, that’s fine; it’s protected. But it’s not protected when the government is issuing these statements. And when the government issues statements that are very controversial, like the gun debate in schools, and ‘How young is too young to protest?’ I don’t like that on the Facebook page.”
She added that such posts “bury” the information residents are looking for, such as announcements about borough meetings and local news.
“I would like an answer, if that’s possible, and if not, I’d like it, going forward, not to be a personal opinion page, because it’s not protected by first amendment speech,” she said.
“So, are you saying it’s illegal?” asked Councilman David Rinaldi, who later in the discussion identified himself as the person behind the posts in question.
“I believe it is,” Wolfe answered. “I believe under the 2006 Supreme Court ruling, yes, it is illegal.”
Borough solicitor Al Weinschenk then spoke up, saying a Facebook page should be apolitical.
“There should be no political statements on the Facebook page,” he said, adding he does not have an account on the social media website and has not seen the content posted by the borough.”
The content posted by the borough page between March 1 and 21 ranged from links to New York Times political pieces, to an article about Dairy Queen giving away free ice cream, to local sports news.
In one post, created March 14 which also included a link to a New York Times piece about the recent death of physicist Stephen Hawking, Rinaldi, under the Clarks Green Borough name, wrote, “Lost a defender of science in the war against ignorance. RIP.”
To that followed an exchange between Facebook user Amy K Crandall Zimmerman and the page.
”Who are you calling ignorant? I am serioulsy curious, Dave,” wrote Zimmerman.
The borough page replied, “Clarks Green Borough Council Meeting in two weeks. Come to the meeting and voice your opinion.”
Zimmerman commented back, “Clarks Green Borough just stop using the borough’s Facebook information page for your personal opinions please,” followed by a second comment, which read, “If you voice your opinion in this forum, you can most certainly answer my question in the same manner.”
No further reply to that post was made, as of Tuesday evening.
“Listen, I am the most liberal person in the valley, and I agree with these articles,” Wolfe said during the meeting. “I read the (Washington) Post, I read the New York Times, but they don’t belong on the government page. They belong on personal pages. That’s my opinion. I would like to see it end; if it doesn’t end, I’ll be happy to put it forth for an opinion with the state ethics board.”
The council members thanked her for coming, and no other discussion was made on the matter.
Since the March 21 meeting, and as of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday content posted by borough’s Facebook page, in order as it appeared includes: a congratulatory post regarding borough resident Katie Lane’s appointment to the planning commission, a photo of Council President Joe Barrasse presenting a certificate of appreciation to Clarks Summit Borough Police Chief Chris Yarns and the Clarks Summit Police Department, a congratulatory post thanking borough resident and former councilwoman Marnie Palmer and Councilman Keith Williams for agreeing to serve on the SAPA Committee, an announcement about the recent March for Our Lives event in Scranton, a link to a New York Times article with the headline “Bolton Was Early Beneficiary of Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook Data,” a link to a CNET article with the headline “FDA launches app that lets you search for drug information,” a link to a New York Times article with the headline, “‘Something About Parkland Has Been Different: Survivors From 20 Years of Mass Shootings Speak,” a photo of Congressman Matt Cartwright and Rinaldi participating in the March for Our Lives event in Scranton, followed by more photos from the event; a link to an MSN article with the headline, “Another key redistricting case goes in front of high court,” a link to an Engadget article with the headline “”A viral photo of Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez is the latest fake news,” a post about the local weather and a short post after Tuesday evening’s basketball game, congratulating the Abington Heights Comets as state champions.
The next council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 18 at the borough building, 104 N. Abington Road.
Reach Elizabeth Baumeister at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @AbingtonJournal.