Rochester City Council president: No social media during meetings
In response to comments Rochester City Council member Michael Wojcik made on his Twitter account during the last council meeting, council president Randy Staver on Monday asked council members to refrain from using social media during council meetings.
In the memo, Staver said the use of technology, such as tablet computers and smart phones during meetings, is fine, if used for council business. Staver handed out the memo during the council's committee of the whole meeting.
"But there should not be a need for more rudimentary forms of social media during meetings, which could, in fact, raise concerns regarding inappropriate communications once a public hearing has been closed but before a meeting has ended," Staver wrote in the letter addressed to the council and mayor.
Council members agreed with Staver's request. Wojcik said he was fine with it, although he suggested that Staver consider that texting during meetings also distracts council members from the meetings.
The issue of tweeting during council meetings has arisen before, but this time people took offense to remarks Wojcik made about a Rochester man who was speaking to the council at its Sept. 16 meeting.
The man, Jerold Young, 91, is the owner of a vacant house in southwest Rochester that has deteriorated to the point of being a public hazard, and it must be razed, the council decided. The house has been an eyesore in the neighborhood for several years and came to the city's Building Safety Department in 2011, when a Rochester police officer reported it.
Young provided a lengthy explanation during the council meeting about why he hasn't maintained the house over the years, including his history as a World War II veteran and personal struggles. He used a derogatory word for the Japanese soldiers he fought during the war, which angered Wojcik.
While Young was speaking, Wojcik tweeted three comments, including: "crappy SW house to come down. Racist owner has 45 days to take care of it himself then we will. #rochcc #rochmn" and "Racism is not OK no matter how old or senile you are... #rochmn #rochcc."
After Young finished speaking, the councilman chastised him for allowing the property to deteriorate so badly. He also complained about Young in a video he posted on his blog the next day, using a profane term for how angry the comments made him.
Wojcik says he did not tweet
Although the tweets during Young's address came from Wojcik's Twitter account, Wojcik said in an interview on Friday and in a Post-Bulletin letter to the editor Saturday that he did not post the tweets during the meeting. He said he has authorized two people to tweet for him during regular council meetings.
"Because I don't like to do it during meetings. I don't care during committee meetings, but not the official meetings," he said.
He wouldn't reveal the names of the people who have his Twitter log-in information. He said that he has allowed seven or eight different people to use his account to comment on city council meetings during the last several years. However, he said he might decide not to allow it anymore, given the latest controversy.
"If anything, if I want to put out something, I'll just do it during a break in the meeting," Wojcik said.
When asked about Wojcik's practice of allowing other people to use his Twitter account to comment on city council meetings, Staver said he doubts the councilman actually allows it.
"You willingly give up your log-in credentials so that someone can tweet on your behalf using your name? I find that, frankly, absurd. Who would do that?" Staver said.
"I certainly wouldn't want anybody communicating to the public using my name, whether I was an elected official or not," he continued. "It just runs counter to how you use electronic communication. I have nothing to say that it's not happening, but I'm just very dubious."
During Monday's meeting, Staver also talked about conduct during meetings. He reminded everyone that, as elected officials, they should hold themselves to a higher standard.
"We certainly have personal opinions, and we react just like everybody else does, but I think it requires that we use our words very guardedly, or appropriately, to match the situation. It can be challenging at times. But at the end of the day, we need to treat people with respect," he said.
Apology for council, mayor
In addition to apologizing for how he treated Young during the council meeting, Wojcik, in Saturday's letter to the editor , apologized on behalf of the other council members and the mayor for not speaking up about Young's derogatory term.
"While I was angry after a racially-charged comment was made, neither the mayor, council, staff nor the public ever admonished or even acknowledged the comment," Wojcik wrote. "We owe it to the public to immediately address any such comments at our meetings. A Japanese-American friend made me aware of this."
But Staver said that while he is glad Wojcik apologized for his own comments during the meeting, he didn't appreciate Wojcik's statement and apology on behalf of the council without consulting the council first.
"Speaking for myself, I took Mr. Young's comments in context," Staver said. "Were the comments appropriate? I would say no. But I take into consideration the era that this gentleman comes from, the war that he fought in."
Councilman Mark Bilderback said he is not mad that Wojcik didn't consult him first, although he continues to think that it wasn't necessary to say something to Young during the meeting. While he believes the use of the derogatory term was inappropriate, he said he was willing to overlook it, given the context of the situation.
"The reality is that the man is 91 and a half years old ... and if I had fought in World War II, I don't know how I would feel. He said it one time at the beginning. If he had said it again and again, I would have interrupted him and said it wasn't appropriate," Bilderback said.