Social Media Policy motion fails in Bellows Falls Trustees meeting

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – The Bellows Falls Village Trustees discussed the budget and a Social Media Policy for a municipality Facebook page Tuesday, Jan. 14 in their meeting at the Bellows Falls Opera House.

James McAuliffe asked about the 40 hours of overtime received by one person in the wastewater department, and Finance Director Shannon Burbela explained it was over a four-week period while the supervisor was on vacation.

McAuliffe suggested the hours should be distributed, and Burbela said, “It’s a very small department,” and the hours were over the holidays and weekend duty. McAuliffe’s concern was using comp time and expressed the need for a Negotiating Committee meeting to discuss further.

Village President Deborah Wright inquired why the village was offering full-time employees overtime to shovel snow and said, “I’m not comfortable with that. Normally, we would hire day laborers.”

Burbela explained ads were posted and part-time staff was hired, but the problem was not having enough employees when they were needed. When Wright asked about using the penitentiary system, Burbela said they are contractual and can only work between the hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

On the Police Department overtime, Fire Chief and acting Police Chief Shaun McGinnis said much of the overtime was officer training required by law. McGinnis suggested the training be spread out through the year and not all done in the month of December to eliminate overtime.

Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison introduced the Social Media Policy based on the recommendations and guidelines of the Vermont League of Towns and Cities that would apply to all Rockingham and Bellows Falls municipal employees, elected officials, volunteers, and other users for a Rockingham and Bellows Falls Facebook page.

The policy includes guidelines against anonymous or fake accounts, disclosing confidential information, and posting as a municipal official with name and title readily available; a moderator position to ensure social media content complies to the policy; and other verbage about account management.

The Rockingham Selectboard had reviewed and approved the Social Media Policy in December. The Trustees, however, had a different opinion of the policy.

Deborah Wright said, “Our website stinks,” and thought the time should be put into repairing it and not wasted on monitoring posts on Facebook. Wright also mentioned that the website “navigation is difficult and links are broken.”

McAuliffe said, “I don’t want people to expect dialogue with employees” and did not favor “our people spending time” on maintenance.

Selectboard member Gaetano Putignano, who was in the audience for the meeting, spoke in favor of the policy, explaining that Facebook was an “immediate information” source. He said, “When there was an active shooter in the village, I learned about it on Facebook.”

He also suggested that employment ads could be filled quicker using this platform and that no one reads them on the website.

Resident Colin James spoke that he had mixed feelings about the Facebook page and his “ultimate concern was the information was accurate.”

Jonathan Wright moved to adopt the policy. There was no second, and the motion failed. The Trustees agreed to review it at the upcoming Tuesday, Jan. 28 Joint Board meeting.

The next Village Trustees meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 11 at the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Opera House.

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