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Seneca wants social media policy

Village board says it will honor 1st Amendment

The Seneca Village Board addressed concerns about how employees use cellphones on company time, as well as their use of social media.

Jeff Olson, commissioner of streets and public property, wants a policy addressing the usage of both. Currently, there is no employee code that addresses them. There is a separate code of conduct for the village clerk, emergency management administrator and the police chief.

“I've seen employees on Facebook with their phones when they're not on lunch or breaks,” Olson said. " ... My concern is that there is plenty of work to do so no one should be on their cellphones.

“When employees represent themselves on social media we all need to be respectful,” Olson continued. “I believe we need a policy on what could happen if employees use the internet/cellphones on company time and make clear the consequences of any policy violation."

Olson suggested a verbal warning, then a written warning for offenses. Termination could follow a third offense, he said.

"Everyone needs to know there are consequences for their actions," Olson said. "We need to come to some sort of agreement and come up with an employee internet usage policy.”

Mayor David Spicer agreed but also expressed concern about employees and social media.

“I don't do social media, but I think if a village representative from any department uses social media, we need to find a way to state that their views are not necessarily representative of the council," the mayor said.

Most communities have an internet policy that governs internet and cellphone use on company time, along with social media.

Spicer gave an example of how social media could be used in an adverse way.

“Let's say an employee is snow plowing and accidentally knocks down a mailbox. The homeowner complains to the employee," Spicer said. "That employee goes home that night and rants about that homeowner on social media. This is not acceptable. That employee represents Seneca and his rant would not be reflective of council views.”

Olson agreed.

“Employees, and I'm talking about every department and every council member, who represents the village on social media need to be respectful. Again, if they're not speaking or representing the village, then I don't really care what they do on their own time.”

Village attorney Bob Russo suggested firewalls to prevent access and protect personal and village information, as well as to prevent viruses and other security issues.

Rich Applebee, commissioner of public health and safety, has been in the computer business for more than 30 years. He noted the village has some firewall protection but it could be upgraded.

“News sites are the number one place for computers to contract viruses,” Applebee said. “An ad on a news site can easily have a virus. So, I agree, that while we do have safeguards in place, we need to upgrade our firewalls that are pretty old.”

Applebee said he had two concerns.

“How do we handle employee work time versus their home-use time? And what exactly can employees do on company time when it comes to the internet?" Applebee asked. "What if an employee is working in the shop and wants to stream music? I think there are a lot of concerns and we need to go through everything very carefully, but it's clear, we do need a policy on all of this.”

The entire council was unanimously clear on one thought: the four members and the mayor believe in the First Amendment.

“I'm concerned about the First Amendment and how any policy would affect it,” Applebee said, “especially with home computer use. Employees have the right to express their personal views. Can we require them to adhere to a policy when it comes to their personal views without violating their First Amendment rights?”

Spicer said it's a fine line the village will have to walk.

“I get that what we are talking about definitely involves our free speech,” Spicer said. “But how do we solve our problem while respecting that amendment right? We don't want anyone representing the village in damaging or negative ways. We also have to respect that everyone is entitled to their opinions.”

Accounts and Finance Commissioner Rick Barla said the village board talked about this issue in 2015, but did not act. He said he would like to see action this time around.

Russo said he would provide some bullet points for review in a future discussion.

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