Last Wednesday’s (9 October) meeting, kicked off with some confusion about the definition of a “reasonable person.”
The latest draft of the social media policy had been amended to refer to a reasonable person’s view of what comments may bring the council into disrepute.
Previously, I had proposed the following sentence be deleted as it constituted a gagging clause: “You must not make any comment or post material that may cause damage to the council’s reputation or bring it into disrepute.”
The latest draft of the policy contained the amended wording: “You must not make any comment or post material so as to give a reasonable person the impression that you have brought your office as councillor or the council into disrepute.”
Cllr Peter Bowden asked that a definition of a “reasonable person” be included in the social media policy, for clarity.
But officers said that there was no such definition available and it all depended on the circumstances of what a member had said or done, as to whether it was reasonable.
Cllr Susie Bond wanted to hear examples of where a councillor has brought the council into disrepute by using social media.
Officers replied that they would provide national examples, adding that it is a judgement and is very much dependent on the context and circumstances.
External member of the committee, Ray Davison asked whether it was possible to criticise the council if what was said was true.
Officers said members needed to be mindful of “fair comment” and the social media policy was not intended to prevent fair comment.
EDDC independent person, Alison Willan, said that she thought that social media was still quite new and she was sure that members would get used to expectations and that things would settle down. The policy was a way of raising standards she said, adding that she thought social media was a good way of reaching people who were not able to attend meetings.
Cllr Frances Newth told the meeting it was: “no good bleating when you are before standards committee because you haven’t thought through the way you have communicated.”
Then Cllr Susie Bond asked a very pertinent question.
There is a clause in the social media policy which states: “You must not publish content for the promotion of personal financial interests, personal commercial ventures or personal campaigns.”
Cllr Bond asked what was meant by “personal campaigns?” She gave examples of wanting to help the RSPB.
Cllr Roger Giles spoke up (we were both observing the meeting) and said he thought this clause was “wholly wrong” and would “hamstring councillors.” He said he had spent most of his political life in campaigns and this was an unacceptable restriction.
But Cllr Bloxham (also observing) replied that the policy would not prevent that sort of campaigning. He said that the sentence was more to do with using your position as a councillor to promote yourself. He added that he thought the meaning was quite clear.
Cllr Giles and I strongly disagreed with Cllr Bloxham and said so.
It was getting less clear (and more worrying given Cllr Diviani’s infamous email – https://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/paul_divianis_message_on_budgets_with_a_few_other_references/ -) by the moment, in my view.
Committee member, David Mason said that the discussion meant there was confusion and the wording needed to be clarified. He suggested that the reference to personal campaigns be deleted.
Fortunately, it was agreed that the wording be changed to reflect the financial aspect of the paragraph, removing any reference to personal campaigns.
The recommendations from the standards committee will be ratified at full council next week, on 23 October.