News City Hall Cracking Down on Council Members’ Blogs
posted by August 20 at 17:49 PMon
It appears City Hall is trying to crack down on council members’ personal blogs and campaign web pages because of concerns about possible confusion with official, city-endorsed websites.
This week, the city’s legislative department sent out a proposed policy change, which was approved by Conlin, to council members late last month. The memo is excerpted below.
It is very important for the City to maintain one identity on the Internet, so that citizens know that the information they are receiving is official information from the City of Seattle.
To this end, councilmembers shall utilize the provided City web address as their primary web site. Redirection, cross-linking, or otherwise orienting visitors to an alternate site is contrary to the policy and purpose of the City Council web site and is not allowed.
Councilmembers are discouraged from establishing and maintaining additional or alternate sites. Steps should be taken to clearly identify personal sites as non-government sites.
Election sites should be taken offline at the conclusion of your campaign.
In a second memo, entitled “situations to be avoided,” a screen capture of a Google search for Burgess’s city council page shows a number of other website hits—including Burgess’s 2007 campaign site—which are referred to in the memo as “misleading search results.”
Burgess would not comment on the behind-the-scenes blogging dispute, but council member Bruce Harrell—who chairs the council’s technology committee—sent out a letter in response to the proposed changes.
I have reviewed the policy. While there are some parts of the policy that make perfect sense regarding consistency, branding and expectations, I do have significant concerns about…[discouraging] Councilmembers from establishing alternative sites.
Aside from the 1st amendment issues raised regarding freedom of expression, I am not sure why alternative sites should be discouraged.
Newsletters, blogs, updates, written correspondence and websites are all legitimate means to express opinions and I think should be encouraged, not discouraged.
If there is a concern about confusing the public about what the “official” communication is and what is simply a Councilmember’s personal opinion, I would suggest we develop a uniform disclaimer that makes it clear that such opinions are not the opinions of the Council.
To date, I have not been made aware of any confusion regarding this issue.
There does not seem to be any harm to the public for maintaining the site given the fact that the site has been paid for (in some cases by the candidate) and is most likely being used as a means to disseminate information to a constituency.
UPDATE: Burgess, via email, says “Conlin is the good guy here!” We’ll update with more info tomorrow.