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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Councilors at odds over social media

County mulls keeping records of their posts; Madore wary of effects

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter
Published: January 26, 2016, 6:51pm

What happens on social media may soon no longer be staying on social media, at least in Clark County government.

Tensions from Friday’s Clark County council retreat spilled into its Tuesday meeting as the council briefly discussed a policy proposed last week that would require the electronic archival of councilors’ social media posts. Posts related to county business would be stored on a county server to comply with the state Public Records Act.

While recounting last week’s all-day work session, Chair Marc Boldt, no party preference, raised the issue.

“There have been some reports out there that our prosecuting attorney essentially said he wanted all of our Facebook (pages) under county’s control,” Boldt said. “That wasn’t what he said or what he meant.”

Councilor David Madore was silent during last week’s conversation, despite being the council’s most prolific user of social media. He would arguably be most affected by changes in the county’s policy on keeping records of social media posts.

But the Republican councilor didn’t stay quiet long, taking to Facebook on Saturday to accuse other councilors and county staff of attempting to control his posts in order to “silence the voice of the conservative minority remaining at the Clark County council.”

“Freedom of the press and freedom of speech, once lost, would complete our transformation to the dark side,” Madore posted.

Madore echoed that at Tuesday’s meeting, saying he would not yield his First Amendment rights.

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“I will defend them,” he said.

But Councilors Jeanne Stewart and Julie Olson, both Republicans, along with Boldt, argued that there is no plan to control the content of what councilors post on social media.

“If we use social media to actively engage in conversations, then we should use a county server so that those communications can be captured and put in a record so if we get a request, we can meet state law requirements,” Stewart said.

Olson agreed.

“My interpretation of the discussion we had was not about the content, but the preservation of the record,” Olson said. “That was simply it.”

Deputy Prosecutor Chris Horne, who advised the council last week that councilors’ social media posts need to be archived, confirmed that he was only talking about archiving posts, not controlling their content.

“Clark County’s sole purpose in discussing councilors’ social media was simply to preserve records in the event that we received a public records request,” Horne said in a voice mail message left with The Columbian on Monday. “There was no other purpose that I discussed that with them.”

Currently, councilors’ social media accounts are not considered public records by the county. In response to disclosure requests, including one filed by The Columbian last year, the county currently asserts it does not have or keep records of councilors’ social media posts.

The matter has yet to be tested in court, though a 2010 memorandum from the Office of the Governor advises that social media be subject to public record. The Municipal Research and Services Center, a nonprofit research organization focused on local governments in Washington, also advises counties and cities to make public officials’ social media posts public records.

The council will have a work session on its social media policy, though it hasn’t been scheduled.

Columbian Education Reporter