Santa Rosa County will step up its oversight of commissioners’ social media use by creating official Facebook pages for them.
The move is being initiated by the county’s new public information officer Brandi Whitehurst, in the wake of her efforts to obtain a copy of Commissioner Rob Williamson’s written report about details of his recent four-day trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with national legislators, Pentagon officials and military industry figures.
Whitehurst requested the report from Williamson on March 28 following a query from the Navarre Press. After waiting for five days to receive the report, which is a public document under Florida’s Sunshine Law, Whitehurst located an unofficial version that Williamson posted on his personal Facebook page.
Williamson had verbally provided details of the trip to commissioners during a March 24 meeting where he had referred to the written statement, but it wasn’t filed for public review. Such documents are usually posted on the county’s website with the agendas of BOCC meetings.
Complying with standards
All this follows an article in the Navarre Press in February that detailed how Santa Rosa County’s guidelines and recordkeeping practices for its officials’ use of social media fall short of the standards recommended by the Florida Bar that have been adopted by some other counties, including Escambia.
For example, Escambia County’s regulations require commissioners to identify opinions they express on personal social media venues as their own, rather than positions being voiced in their elected capacity.
Whitehurst said that although she is aware of the Navarre Press article, it didn’t prompt her move to create official Facebook pages for each commissioner. Still, specifying social media platforms for the board members is a distinct departure from the county’s current social media policy, which exempts commissioners from guidelines on personal Internet use.
In response to this newspaper’s questions in February, Whitehurst replied, “The commissioners answer to the citizens of Santa Rosa County and the governor. They can choose to set their own guidelines for social media if they want.”
Under the new procedure being recommended by Whitehurst, commissioners can communicate with the public and news media on official Facebook pages that can be located via the county’s website.
The new pages will include the commissioners’ photos and the image of the county’s seal. Unlike information on personal Facebook pages, the new ones will be considered public documents. And when commissioners leave office, those pages will be inherited by their successors.
The change must be approved by the commissioners and is expected to come before them for a vote during the next few weeks.
As seen in the April 14 issue of Navarre Press. Click HERE to subscribe online.