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Wabasha County board spars over social media, union ad

WABASHA — What began as a review by Wabasha County board members Tuesday of a policy on use of social media drifted into a far-ranging disagreement about who has been attacking whom, and whether the board chairman condoned a recent Teamsters union ad attacking another board member.

Interim Administrator Michael Plante said the county's social media policy has been discussed for several months. The county is considering the policy to make sure departments are sending out a consistent message on how social media is to be used, he said. Misuse of county computers for personal social media or email is addressed in other policies, he said.

But the discussion quickly turned to long-simmering conflicts on the board.

Commissioner Deb Roschen, who was the subject of an attack ad in the Wabasha Herald last week that was paid for by Teamsters Local 320, representing county sheriff's employees, said she asked for the policy to be put on the agenda.

Roschen said she's been the subject of on-going attacks on Facebook, where a page was created a few years ago called "I Dislike Deb Roschen Greatly (Because We Do Not Say Hate in this House)," and among the members was Don Springer , who was elected in 2012 and is now the board chairman. That page remained active on Facebook this morning.

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During the recall campaign against Roschen in 2011, she says a county attorney's office employee was among those who posted comments against her. Roschen said that type of activity by county employees raises questions that need to be addressed by an administrative policy. She said she doesn't want to stifle free speech but wonders where the "moral or ethical boundaries" are in such matters.

If the employee used county equipment or was on the clock when advocating for the recall of an elected county commissioner member, "then we have an issue," Roschen said.

Springer replied that the Association for Government Accountability, a citizens group that Roschen and Commissioner Dave Harms have been involved with, has published untruthful things about him. Springer and Harms sparred about that, and Harms asked Springer if he condoned the union ad attacking Roschen.

"No," Springer said, without further comment.

The ad called Roschen "the real pig at the trough" for using county health and dental care benefits, which are available to all board members. The union is among the five county employee unions that are in contract negotiations currently; all five are now headed for mediation.

Roschen has been a critic of the safe driving (driver diversion) program that the Sheriff's Office has operated for years and that was recently ruled illegal by a district judge.

Harms told Springer that "I don't think there has been anything (from the citizens group) that has been salacious" or inappropriate.

After the meeting, Springer said he doesn't think the Teamsters ad will hurt contract negotiations but that information about the negotiations that was leaked by AGA was damaging. "That is where the harm was done," he said.

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The ad in the Herald hurt Roschen's feelings, he said, "but it certainly didn't hurt the process we are in."

Springer also noted after the meeting that it was the first that Roschen had attended recently. "I should be glad" she hasn't been attending "because these meetings run so smoothly" when she doesn't, he said. "She only shows up when she has a stunt" such as the social media issue, and then she calls the news media to attend, he said.

"She was on her best behavior today," he said, adding that he "would like her to come and do her job."

Roschen said she has attended meetings infrequently over the past two months because of health issues and a new job that conflicts with the meeting schedule. But she also referred to how she's been treated at board meetings since the last election and said the meetings have become a "hostile work environment."

Related Topics: POLICY
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