For the past several months, Councilmember Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) has kept his constituents informed about what he's working on at City Hall by posting his thoughts and opinions on a blog.
His dedication to making the trendy technology tool a part of his day-to-day business as an elected city official will now become a lot easier. Councilmembers have always been able to maintain blogs on their own time, but the City Council voted May 26 to allow members to use city staff and resources in maintaining the online sites.
A blog - short for weblog - is essentially an online journal that is usually updated frequently with new posts and can contain links and graphics. The city-sponsored blogs run by councilmembers will be a limited public forum to discuss city issues and are intended as a way for councilmembers and other city officials to reach out to constituents and residents.
“I sort of look at it as creating a virtual public forum,” said Gordon, who set up his blog so visitors can leave comments.
The Council's decision came after a lengthy discussion in which some members expressed concern that the city-sponsored blogs could become a liability for the city. Others, however, maintained that the sites are simply another way to reach out to constituents.
“I think we can do this and do this in a way to promote discourse and civility,” Gordon said.
The idea to create a blog detailing his actions and experiences as a councilmember emerged during his campaign for City Council last fall, Gordon said. One of his goals has been to find ways to communicate more effectively with constituents, and many residents like being able to find out what he's up to with just a few clicks of the mouse. Gordon said his goal is to highlight issues and allow for discussion on his blog before the City Council makes a decision. He has been working on getting a resolution passed allowing for city-sponsored blogs since he took office in January.
Under the new resolution, councilmembers who choose to maintain city-sponsored blogs do have to follow a list of regulations. Any blog that uses city staff or resources must include a disclaimer that lets readers know that the blog is a limited public forum sponsored by the city and that things such as defamatory comments, profane language, sexually explicit remarks, comments that promote discrimination, and any remarks related to political campaigning or soliciting for charities are not allowed. Councilmembers must allow all comments that are within the guidelines set by the city and must retain records of any rejected comments, along with the reason why they were rejected.
Links to the blogs may not be placed on the city's website or any of the councilmembers' ward sites. City officials who choose to create a blog will also have to conform to state laws and city policies. The city clerk will monitor any blogs and report back to the Council in 60 days about any issues that arise, including problems with the misuses of the sites for personal or political purpose.
But the list of regulations wasn't enough to convince Councilmember Don Samuels (5th Ward) that the blogs are a good idea. He said he worried that people would use the blogs to attack councilmembers and that monitoring the comments posted would be difficult.
“Freedom of speech that is unbridled can do more harm than good,” Samuels told his colleagues during the City Council meeting. “There's no doubt about that.”
Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) and Councilmember Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) also said they have concerns about the city's liability when it comes to blogs, noting that people could sue the city because of material placed on the blogs or if they felt their voice had been blocked and their First Amendment rights had been violated.
“This opens the door for another avenue for the city to be at risk in lawsuits,” Johnson said.
Councilmember Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) said she supports the idea of members having blogs but does not plan to maintain a blog herself. She said the lengthy debate the issue received in several committees as well as during the City Council meeting speaks to how new the technology is and concerns that some members have over that new technology. She said the city's liability when it comes to blogs is a concern, but one that shouldn't stop councilmembers from using city staff and resources to reach out to their constituents via an online journal.
“Clearly, that's an issue. But my take on it is, with any of our communications, we put ourselves at some risk,” Hodges said, adding that she doesn't want to limit forms of communication with constituents.
Councilmember Ralph Remington (10th Ward) agreed.
“I'll always err in favor of expanding the dialogue in a democracy,” he said. “That's what democracy is about.”
Gordon said he had no idea when he initially thought of the idea of city-sponsored blogs that they would generate so much debate.
“It wasn't my plan to make a big spectacle of it,” Gordon said, adding that he did appreciate the input from all of the councilmembers. “But it's a new thing, and we have to be careful.”
You can find Gordon's blog at http://secondward.blogspot.com.
Kari VanDerVeen can be reached at email@example.com and 436-4373