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Rochester social media policy has gray areas

Paul Sims said he's still cautious when asked about the impact of Rochester's social media policy, which affects volunteer board and commission members.

"There have been discussions about it," said the Committee on Urban Design and Environment chairman, who noted he's been asked by potential board applicants whether it's a concern.

After getting the first look at a potential orientation presentation seeking to answer questions about the policy, he said he's still waiting to see how it is implemented when a complaint is made.

Linda Hillenbrand, the city's human resources director, said only one complaint has been received regarding a board member, and it was discovered the board in question is not a city board.

Bari Amadio, a CUDE board member, said she'd like to see the impact studied.


"I'd be interested in a research project to see if it actually chilled anyone from applying for a leadership position," she said.

Hillenbrand said she hopes it doesn't discourage any participation, since the policy's intent is to simply promote civility among those who represent the city.

"This was never meant to discourage discussion," she said. "It was never meant to discourage having your own opinion."

Protection under policy

While Sims cited concerns with the policy, he also said it could offer new protections.

Pointing to a critical letter Rochester City Council President Randy Staver sent to Planning and Zoning Chairwoman Lindsey Meek after she posted a disparaging comment regarding a local hotel, Sims asked if Meek's post would have spurred action under the new policy.

"I think that would fall under freedom of speech rights, in my opinion," she said, noting complaints will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

"Unless there's more to that story than what we know, that wouldn't rise to what we are talking about here," Hillenbrand added.


CUDE member Nick Dibble also raised concern about protection from false claims. A Mayo Clinic information security engineer, he said he knows fake posts could be generated and submitted in a complaint.

"It's those gray areas that concern me," he said.

Hillenbrand said such posts would be confirmed with the alleged writer. If denied, she said an outside source could be used to either verify or refute the claim, but action wouldn't be likely without verified evidence or admission of guilt.

More review ahead

Hillenbrand said she's planning to take the social media presentation to at least two more groups as she gathers feedback before making it an official part of employee and volunteer orientation.

The Olmsted Human Rights Commission and Planning and Zoning Commission have asked to see it.

While the Human Rights Commission doesn't fall under the policy, some members have noted they do, since they also sit on city board. Other members have indicated a desire to understand the policy and make sure it doesn't infringe on residents' rights.

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