A proposal for a social media conduct policy proved controversial at the Nov. 17 City Council meeting. The policy would address councilors' conduct on social media.

Mayor Eric Sanders requested the policy discussion after learning that the Regional School Unit 71 Board of Directors enacted a new board social media conduct policy. Earlier this month former board Chairwoman Caitlin Hills resigned after calling supporters of President Trump obscene names in a Facebook post. The new school district policy had been in the works before that incident.

Councilors Mary Mortier and Brenda Bonneville said they supported having a social media policy, Councilor Paul Dean said he could go either way about the idea, Councilor Mike Hurley said he wanted the policy to encompass public situations beyond social media and Councilor Neal Harkness opposed the idea.

Bonneville said a policy could act as a reminder to councilors about things they post online. But Hurley said it was almost like a “non-policy” that replaces common sense.

The last time councilors discussed a public conduct issue regarding the council was when former Mayor Samantha Paradis wrote a letter to the editor published in The Republican Journal discussing what she saw as unfair treatment by colleagues and the public, Hurley said. He said it has become common for elected officials to post controversial comments on social media.

Harkness was concerned that a policy would impede a candidate's or elected official’s ability to discuss public issues with constituents. He preferred to have a social media guideline for councilors instead of a policy.

Harness was also concerned that people might try to bait councilors into violating a policy if they knew there was one. He did not want the city to adopt a policy that would make members of the public think councilors could be reported to an authority for their speech.

Sanders said he was not trying to limit councilors’ speech with the idea of a policy, but he does not want to be in a situation where the city is discussing the social media conduct of a councilor that could have been prevented by having a policy.

Mortier said sometimes people on social media confuse one councilor's opinion for that of the whole council and a conduct policy might clear that up. People have approached her with impressions that one councilor is speaking for the whole council on social media.

Hurley then went on the defensive, claiming that she was targeting him and a few other councilors who are active on social media. He said the issues that Mortier was speaking about should be addressed when they arise.

He said he has never discussed issues or topics presented in executive session, but has heard members of the public talking about issues covered in executive session after the fact.

City Manager Erin Herbig said the city only shares information on social media that pertains to city matters.

Hurley said he needs to use social media to inform residents about council happenings and to correct falsehoods. “I’m elected to represent the people of Belfast, even the ones who didn’t vote for me,” he said.

Councilors agreed to have Herbig use the social media policy adopted by RSU 71 as a template for a social media code of conduct for the council, but to take out points that councilors feel impede their public communication as elected officials.