City drafts controversial employee social media policy

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Some city employees with the police and fire department have gotten in trouble before for what they’ve posted on Facebook in the past.

Now the city wants to make sure that it doesn’t happen ever again with a new social media policy.

But already, the ACLU says the proposed rules are unconstitutional.

One of the rules says city employees can only share “personal, non-work related opinions and information” on their own social media pages on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

The ACLU says that rule and others go too far.

“I suspect that any government entity wants to make sure that what’s talked, whatever is said about it reflects it in the best light, but on the other hand this policy goes far beyond that situation, I mean it’s trying to restrict the speech of employees when it has nothing to do with the city or even their job,” said Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico.

Simonson says some of the city’s proposed rules could get city employees in trouble or fired for merely speaking about any problems they see with the city government, regardless of whether or not they work for the department in question.

Another proposed rule forces employees who say they work for the city to post a disclaimer saying their opinions are their own and don’t reflect any opinions of the city.

The ACLU says that might be OK for a private business to make a rule like that, but not a government.

Social media conduct is not a new issue for the city of Albuquerque. APD officer Trey Economidy got in trouble for listing his job as “human waste disposal” on Facebook years ago. Albuquerque Fire also fired firefighter Kenneth Barncastle this year for saying he wished APD had a “criminal population reduction unit.”

The city’s human resources director Vincent Yermal says the proposed policy is not about shutting people up, but rather addressing bad behavior online.

“We have no intention it’s not our desire to infringe on people’s rights, it’s merely to establish an orderly workplace and maintain it even to the extent that it might, be as an individual might represent themselves as a city employee on their own personal social media site,” said Yermal.

Yermal says this policy was based off of other cities social media guidelines and that city attorneys also helped draft it.

The largest city union, AFSCME says it will fight the policy proposal, calling it a political move from Mayor R.J. Berry’s administration.

The city is taking public comment on the policy at a meeting at City Hall on Friday afternoon. After that, it will take written comment for two weeks. Ultimately, it’s up to the Mayor’s office to make the final say on the proposal.

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