Late Sunday, following our report concerning Alexandria Police Chief Jerrod King’s suspension for posting a public message in support of his officers on his personal Facebook page, an anonymous source provided the Bayou Brief with copies of the City’s “social media policy,” which is actually a set of four different, confusingly-titled documents: Social Media Policy, Social Media Procedure, Employee Social Media Policy, and Media Relations Policy.
The Bayou Brief filed a public records request on late Friday, asking for these documents, among others.
Taken together, the city’s policy is a convoluted, woefully inept, legally problematic, and recklessly punitive series of directives that grossly misapprehends how social media functions and reflects the same kind of restrictive and patronizing approach that was implemented last year by Louisiana College. After the Bayou Brief published a leaked copy of LC’s social media policy, the small Southern Baptist school generated national criticism, even earning the ire of a conservative columnist at Christianity Today.
“Since I don’t intend on losing my job,” one Alexandria city employee told me, “my Facebook will now just be nothing but cat videos and pictures of my grandkids. I’m serious.”
All four of the new policy documents, at least two of which are publicly accessible through the city website, were written by Susan Broussard, a controversial former HR manager at CLECO, a privately-held electric utility behemoth, and current Chief of Staff for another CLECO alumnus, Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall. Unlike Hall, who departed CLECO on good terms, Broussard’s final year at the company was marked by acrimony and contention with the incoming CEO Bill Fontenot, which had been widely-known among her former colleagues and among much of the local business community.
Incidentally, Broussard is a graduate of Louisiana College and a member of its Board of Visitors. Four years ago, she was profiled in the Baptist Message for teaching a class on public relations at the school.
“If you can’t execute an email without grammatical errors, or if you can’t express your thoughts and ideas, people will judge you on that. In many careers, if you can’t write you’re done for. You’ve go to be able to write,” she said at the time, accurately.
Although the Bayou Brief can now confirm that Mayor Hall’s office privately asserted Chief King was being suspended for violating Broussard’s policy by using his personal Facebook account to publicly share a message of support and camaraderie with his fellow officers, the policy does not contain any provision that specifically prohibited him from doing so. Instead, Mayor Hall appears to be relying on a couple of ambiguously-worded “guiding principles” contained in the document titled “Employee Social Media Policy.”
Since the advent of social media in 2004-2005, only one Alexandria city employee has been forced to resign for content she had posted under her personal Facebook account. I’m referring, of course, to my former colleague, Von Jennings, who called a downtown waitress a “racist piece of shit” after she had offered the simple observation that attendance during a city-run festival had declined since the previous year. Notably, according to at least three of Jennings’ colleagues, she had been provided the opportunity to remain in her job if she simply agreed to send a note of apology to those in the community she had offended.
No one can fault an employer for reprimanding a staffer whose online behavior was toxic or disruptive to their professional operations, as Jennings had been last May. The decision to create a citywide, written “social media policy” was a direct consequence of the experience City Hall had confronted with Jennings.
In the interest of ensuring an informed public, the Bayou Brief is sharing all four of the documents. (Note: The initial document includes a logo from the AEX4King campaign in order to differentiate it from the city’s versions.)
In addition to the provision prohibiting employees from making “personal, individualize (sic) workplace grievances on social media,” they are also instructed to only rely on private social media channels when expressing private complaints and warned that anything and everything they post on private social media accounts may be subject to discipline if it is found to be in violation of the policy. It’s not difficult to spot the fatal flaw.
Alexandria’s policy is nearly the precise opposite of municipal best practices, which encourages employees to share their work experiences online as a way of better informing and educating the public. Rather than policies that make public servants feel as if they should behave like nameless bureaucrats or that they cannot be trusted to share photographs of a project they were a part of putting together, for example, the country’s most successful cities don’t want to muzzle employees; rather, they want their employees to become brand ambassadors— and not just when they are on the clock.
Consider, on the other hand, what Broussard’s language communicates:
In another section, when she provides a list of discriminatory comments that are prohibited, she noticeably fails to include sexual orientation.
Broussard’s section pertaining to communications made by law enforcement is especially confusing, initially asserting that a different set of guidelines applied, then outlining how an APD Public Informations Officer should be appointed, and finally effectively turning all substantive decision-making authority to Cynthia Jardon, a former Town Talk columnist who serves as the City’s PIO and reports directly to Broussard.
For reasons that are not made clear, the policy requires that deference be given to the Fire Chief’s decision on when and whether to speak with the media during “fire and EMS situations,” but in “law enforcement situations,” the Police Chief is not expressly provided with similar authority.
Instead, all requests are directed to the department’s public information officer, who is required to “make every effort to notify the City PIO (Jardon) at the earliest possible time,” Susan Broussard writes.
There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for the differences in protocol, but considering the recent controversy over Chief Jerrod King (the fire chief’s name is Larry King), it’s hard not to notice.
Finally, on a personal note, nearly a decade ago, when I worked as an assistant for former Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy, I continued publishing my locally-popular blog site, CenLamar, which received a statewide award in excellence during my final year at City Hall. Occasionally and, for the most part, intentionally, I waded into controversial topics; at the time, my fiercest critic was a viciously racist former klansman. One day, after I decided to remove a post about political corruption, which I had thinly-veiled as fictional, about three hours after it went online, the former klansman pounced, blasting me in the media and calling for me to lose my job.
Here’s how my boss responded:
It was an important learning experience for me, especially because, although the “fictional” post in question wasn’t all that clever- again, it was actually about the need to stand up against political corruption, I had been too cavalier and more than a little naive.
Fortunately, I worked for an elected official who championed our most sacred right in this country, the right to free speech, and alongside a team of people who didn’t believe the only way to prevent bad press was by creating a tyrannical workplace.