BERRYVILLE — Changes could be coming in how Berryville Town Council members are allowed to use a popular social media website to keep residents informed about local matters.
Town Manager Keith Dalton is looking into what changes might be appropriate as a result of concerns voiced by Councilwoman Diane Harrison about the possibility of inaccurate information being distributed.
During the council's meeting Tuesday night, Harrison said "there have been issues with postings" to council members' Facebook pages specifically pertaining to their duties as town officials. She didn't elaborate.
"I didn't want to get into super specifics because I didn't want to be finger-pointing," she said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. She said, however, that council members occasionally have made comments about town matters that were not entirely factual and put readers "in a tizzy," then didn't go back and correct the inaccuracies.
"When our names are attached to a website," Harrison said, often "people take that (information on it) as gospel, so to speak."
To town officials' knowledge, only Mayor Patricia Dickinson and Councilwoman Kara Rodriguez have Facebook pages for communicating with residents about government matters.
Harrison said she had one but shut it down.
Dickinson's page caused controversy last year after she briefly deleted comments critical of Berryville's new McDonald's restaurant that town resident Brian McClemens posted to it. She also briefly banned McClemens from the page.
At McClemens' request, Dickinson apologized during Tuesday night's meeting for taking those actions, which led to a lawsuit dismissed in Clarke County General District Court.
Under a policy adopted by the council last year, elected and appointed officials may maintain social media sites on which they mention their roles with the town and discuss town business. Posts to the sites must be archived based on provisions of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Dalton said the town has a contract with a firm providing that service.
Posts by council members "should remain professional in nature and content," the policy states. The sites should not be used to conduct private business activities or commercial transactions, it adds.
Despite the sites being for the purpose of relaying information on town matters, the policy suggests council members use a disclaimer such as, "The postings on this site are my own and do not represent the opinions or positions of the Berryville Town Council or Town of Berryville."
Harrison proposed that council members not be allowed to have government-related Facebook pages. The ban would not apply to personal pages used to communicate with family members or friends.
Rodriguez disagreed with Harrison's idea.
"Many elected officials have their own Facebook pages," Rodriguez said.
Facebook has become "such a powerful tool" for modern interpersonal communication, she continued. She added that she has found her page valuable in getting residents' input on how to handle issues, such as the thousands of starlings that recently invaded Berryville.
"There's a right way and a wrong way" to post information online, said Councilwoman Donna Marie McDonald. For instance, postings should not insult specific people or defame their character, she said.
Harrison suggested instead for Berryville to continue posting relevant information on Clarke County's Facebook page.
In her opinion, she said, "we don't have enough content for our own page at this point."
Dalton said he not only will examine the social media policy to determine whether any changes are needed, but also he will get the town's part-time attorney to scrutinize it.
"An amended policy vetted by the attorney" may be presented to the council for consideration at some point, he said.