Plain City employees and elected officials may soon face consequences for speaking their minds on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
Rockmill Financial, the consulting group hired by Plain City to look over village finances and make recommendations, gave their fourth and final presentation to council on Monday, June 8. The presentation followed council’s regularly scheduled meeting and focused on spending and organizational procedures.
Rockmill consultants urged village leaders to establish rules regarding the use of social media and other communications by employees and officials.
“The village needs to work together without mixed messages or misinformation,” Rockmill’s David Conley told council. “So, a cohesive social media policy should be brought forward.”
Training is available through organizations such as the Ohio Municipal League to help officials learn and understand proper protocol, he said.
His message came mere minutes after a discussion by council on the use of social media by its own members.
Council member Nick Kennedy confronted fellow member Leslie Perkins regarding a May 12 Facebook discussion about the “Plain City Fireworks Fund.”
Organizers of the village’s July 4 celebration are facing a fee to use Pastime Park for a fireworks display and other holiday events. Perkins, who believes the village should waive the fee, initiated the Facebook page as a public forum to discuss the issue.
Kennedy accused Perkins of acting unprofessionally in a public setting.
“You’re giving misinformation and half-truths,” Kennedy told Perkins. Kennedy added that Perkins had a responsibility to correct misinformation posted by others on the page.
“I do state my opinion and that’s how I feel,” Perkins said. “If someone comes back and states their opinion, that is just like a conversation on the sidewalk.”
“We have a responsibility to guard our tongues,” Mayor Sandra Adkins said. “We have to be leaders and we have to be careful.
“That’s why we will have a social media document that people will adhere to. [Village solicitor] Paul [LaFayette] is working on it now,” Adkins said.
Rockmill’s hour-long presentation included a laundry list of other recommendations.
Key among them was the importance of requiring department heads to project their staffing and capital needs for the next five years.
“That will provide you the ability to make decisions,” Conley said.
In conjunction with the needs assessment, Conley advised council to survey the community about village services.
“We think you need a good survey company that can help you find some insight into what the community wants and needs,” Conley said.
With both a needs assessment and community survey in hand, village leaders would be better equipped to know what services should be expanded, improved or eliminated.
Rockmill consultants also recommended consolidating government offices under a single roof. A shared facility would allow employees to work between departments and offer long-term savings on maintenance and utility costs. Consolidation would also bring all village departments into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
“We believe done the right way — the cost of building a new facility would probably be offset by the money [wasted through redundancies] at the old facilities,” Conley said.
Consultants also saw a need for village government to grow.
They recommended hiring the following full-time employees:
• zoning inspector
• chief of police
• public works administrator
• investigator/police officer
• utility maintenance worker
• street maintenance worker
• a shared administrative assistant
They also recommended hiring the following part-time workers:
• parks and recreation director
• director of economic development
• part-time police officer
Finding the money to hire these employees would require the village to raise taxes (income or property) or increase fees (waste services, park usage, etc.).
Conley also had a warning for council.
“Debt is in your future. You will need to borrow money at some point in the next few years. So you should have a policy on how much you should borrow and a policy as to how it is paid back,” he said.
In other business Monday night, council voted unanimously to appoint Plain City resident Kerri Ferguson to the council seat vacated by Shawn Kaeser. Ms. Ferguson was one of eight residents who expressed interest in the council seat.
Council member Bob Walter urged the seven unsuccessful applicants to run for council seats in the November election. He expressed a need for new leadership.
Rob Treynor is a contributing writer for The Madison Press and Plain City Advocate covering the Plain City area. He can be reached on Twitter @RobTreynor.