WEST ALEXANDRIA — Council approved the second reading of a controversial ordinance governing social media usage on Monday, April 19. The first reading passed 4-2 in March, with council members Zach Shafer and Dan Utsinger voting against.
The proposed ordinance would protect the municipality against civil rights litigation by requiring employees who discuss public business on their personal social media profiles to post a disclaimer stating that their views do not necessarily reflect those of the municipality. Without such an ordinance, according to village solicitor Aaron Glasgow, these discussions could legally create a public forum, meaning that the village could face lawsuits if comments are deleted.
Shafer and Utsinger asked that a section requiring “village employees” to post the disclaimer be eliminated entirely or amended to read “village officers and elected officials.” Section 1 of the ordinance, according to Shafer, protects the village against potential liability by establishing that only the official website and Facebook page are authorized to create a public forum.
Shafer asked what, if any, action would be taken against employees who refuse to post the disclaimer. While Mayor Jeff Hickey claimed there would likely be no “day to day enforcement,” Glasgow suggested a different policy.
“If you’re going to put it on the books, you should enforce it,” Glasgow said, indicating that employees refusing to post the disclaimer would be subject to disciplinary action for insubordination. Glasgow clarified, however, that “public officials and high-level management are most likely to get you sued.”
A motion by Utsinger to specify “elected officials and department heads” as requiring the disclaimer was approved by unanimous vote. The second reading of the ordinance then passed, again by a margin of four to two.
In other business
Council also approved the third and final reading of a use nuisance ordinance penalizing landlords in the village whose properties are repeatedly involved in drug-related offenses. Property owners found to be in violation would face a series of warnings and fines, and could even lose the ability to continue renting a property for a period of time.
Council voted not to move forward with a previous version of the ordinance in October. A second reading of the revised ordinance passed in March, with council president Ashley Myers casting the lone vote against.
Myers again cast the single dissenting vote during April’s meeting. The ordinance was approved by a margin of five to one and will go into effect immediately.
Council also approved the second reading of a resolution to place a four-mill property tax levy on the ballot to fund the village police department, passing by a margin of five to one, with Myers voting against. The levy is expected to go on the ballot in November, pending the passage of a third and final reading.
Council previously debated placing the levy on the ballot during a pair of special meetings in January. The measure was defeated at that time. Police Chief Tony Gasper addressed council about his department’s proposed 2021 budget in November, stating that a planned reduction from $272,000 to $220,000 would compromise his ability to provide 24/7 police coverage.
West Alexandria Village Council meetings are held the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Fire & EMS Bldg located at 8 Marty Ln.
Reach Anthony Baker at 937-683-4057 or on Facebook @mproperenglish