The rest of the Sarasota County Commission doesn’t want anything to do with a proposal by Commissioner Christine Robinson to create county-run Facebook pages for all commissioners.
During a Dec. 1 board retreat at the Sarasota County Administration Center, Robinson expressed frustration with a county-operated Facebook page, explaining it took six hours recently to get staff to post something about a grand opening she had attended.
“I think (Facebook is) an area of information we can utilize,” Robinson said. “If there’s important information we want folks to know about, we can pass it along in that venue.”
County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh asked the commissioners if they wanted to propose a policy for Facebook usage, noting that most counties and cities don’t handle that type of social media.
County Communications Operations Manager Crystal Pruitt said if commissioners wanted county Facebook pages as a platform for discussing county business, each would be responsible for his or her site and its content; the county would back up the data on a county server.
Florida’s Sunshine Laws require full disclosure of any discussion that involves county issues or policies, she explained, so any such correspondence must be backed up on the county’s server.
“If you have your own site, you are using it at your own risk and taking full responsibility for what’s on it,” Pruitt said.
Chairwoman Nora Patterson and Robinson said they have personal pages, but they don’t discuss county issues on them.
Nonetheless, DeMarsh warned that even personal pages pose potential problems for commissioners.
“The issue is if something is posted on your personal Facebook page about county business, it would become a public record that needs to be backed up,” DeMarsh said.
When DeMarsh recommended the commissioners not have individual county Facebook pages, all but Robinson concurred.
“I don’t think we should take the risk,” said Commissioner Joe Barbetta. “Post on your personal page and back it up and be responsible for it if you want to do it.”
Commissioner Jon Thaxton agreed.
“This is something where I would not prefer to be on the leading edge or the trial-court case to determine how to use new social medias in government,” he said. “It’s too risky … We’re vulnerable enough just sitting here right now and responding to emails.”
The comments prompted Commissioner Carolyn Mason to say, “This is why I don’t even have a desire to have a Facebook page.”
Still, despite their criticism, commissioners said they were pleased Robinson had raised the issue.
Patterson also urged county staff to post information more quickly on the county’s official Facebook page and especially to post more updates about county business news.
Thaxton urged staff to be more personal with the updates.
“The personal side of it is what makes Facebook work,” Thaxton said. “Let’s tell the residents which commissioners attended (an event) and provide a funny story from the event, if there’s one to be told.”
In other business, during the retreat, Robinson was elected chairwoman of the commission, effective Jan. 1, 2012.