The Casper City Council will consider two items establishing guidelines for council member behavior during its Tuesday work session. Those items include a social media policy and an updated code of ethics.
The new code of ethics would be enacted by ordinance and would clarify the former code’s ambiguous language while better addressing ethical dilemmas, such as employees or officials using their position for personal or financial gain, nepotism, and conflicts of interest.
The city has been without a code of ethics ordinance since a past council repealed it last year.
“The majority (of council) felt too many of the terms were open to too much interpretation,” Casper Mayor Charlie Powell said of that repeal.
The new code allows for the termination of an employee, as well as censure or, in extreme cases, the removal of a council member from office.
City attorney John Henley said the new code also provides for more specificity and a more reasonable hearing process if somebody were accused of violating the ordinance. That process would involve a third-party hearing examiner — typically an attorney — reviewing the claims.
But even with those provisions in place, City Manager Carter Napier said, censure is very unlikely and the code of ethics is meant to establish standards and guidelines, rather than punish employees or council members. This is particularly important for newly elected or appointed council members who perhaps are stepping into public service for the first time, Napier said.
“Having these guidelines in place really gives those folks a view of what’s appropriate and what’s not,” he said.
Powell echoed that point, saying the new ordinance should be seen as something council members can look to and reference for what is appropriate and what is not.
“The purpose of these things is education, really, rather than sanctioning,” he said.
Napier said the social media policy is intended to function much the same.
“Social media is so dynamic,” he said. “Many of our newer council members have had very good questions about how to respond to things and what the nature of those responses should be.”
This policy clarifies that, he said, and ensures council members are cognizant of not appearing to represent the whole council when they are only speaking for themselves.
But the policy also explicitly prohibits council members from attacking other members of the council on their personal social media accounts.
“A council member, on his or her social media platform, can condemn the nature or the predicted consequence of a proposed or adopted measure in strong terms,” the proposed policy reads. “But there should be no attack upon the motives of or disparagement of another council member.”
This issue has come up a number of times, though only vaguely, during council work sessions. Several weeks ago Councilman Kenneth Bates broached the subject by asking that council members be vigilant of what their family and friends post online about the council’s actions.
In a memo to the council, Henley addressed how the new policy might mitigate these concerns.
“Because mistakes or bad conduct on social media can quickly get out of hand and cause real damage and real pain, entities have started to create social media policies to encourage good behavior and provide guidelines for appropriate usage,” Henley wrote in the memo.
Powell said the social media policy, like the code of ethics, simply establishes standards for council members to look toward when they are unsure of the proper action.
“It’s a balancing act between having standards in place and not squelching free speech,” he said.
The council will decide whether to move forward with these two items at its work session Tuesday evening.
In other council news, some new signs could be popping up around Casper early next year. The Casper Area Metropolitan Planning Organization along with other stakeholders are preparing to unveil a new wayfinding plan, which they will discuss with council Tuesday night. The plan seeks to create “innovative and attractive” signage to guide guests and residents to various points of interest around the community. It also seeks to use the new signs to promote the area’s key gateways.
The planning organization will contract with Des Moines, Iowa-based RDG Planning and Design to complete the project, which is anticipated to cost $100,000 — money the planning organization has already set aside.
The scope of the project is still being determined, and the organization plans to gather public input. A more comprehensive look at the project’s scope will be presented to the council at its next work session, Aug. 20, according to a memo to the council from the organization.