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Split council OKs social media policy

Whistle-blower policy meets less resistance

POSTED February 7, 2018 10:32 a.m.

A revised social media policy and a brand-new whistle-blower policy for Great Bend city employees gained preliminary approval from a divided City Council Monday night. Final approval will be on the agenda when the council meets next Feb. 19.

“We felt strongly it needed to be expanded,” Human Resources Director Randy Keasling said of the new social media policy. 

The existing policy focuses on public relations and those employees who manage social media sites for the city, but the revised policy adds information for all staff related to their use of social media sites and if that use pertains to their job and the City of Great Bend. 

“We did some research,” Keasling said. City officials looked at other communities and HR sites, drawing from them to draft this policy.

In part, it reads “(1) whether participating on behalf of the city or personally, you should follow the same standards of behavior ‘online’ as you would if ‘in person’ and should be mindful of how your online activities reflect upon you and your position with the city and city organization. (2) You are solely responsible for what you post online. You should consider the risks and rewards, as more and more court cases are appearing due to slander, misrepresentation and copyright infringement. (3) Keep in mind that if any of your conduct adversely affects your job performance, the performance of fellow employees or otherwise adversely affects members, customer’s suppliers, people who work on behalf of the City or those who have legitimate business interests, may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

“It says that if they post something that negatively impacts the city or those associated with the city, there may be consequences,” Keasling said. “This is becoming the standard.”

However, Councilman Brock McPherson thought the matter ought to be tabled until the city hires a new city administrator. Interim City Administrator George Kolb consulted with Keasling on the proposal.

“I would not recommend that,” Kolb said. “A new administrator would come back and tell you the same thing.”

McPherson scoffed at this notion and moved to table the policy. He was joined by council members Andy Erb and Cory Zimmerman, but the motion failed on a 4-3 vote, with Cory Urban, Joel Jackson, Jolene Biggs and Vicki Berryman voting against it. Councilman Dan Heath was absent from Monday’s meeting.

The voting was flipped when the policy was approved on a 4-3 decision.

“We are not having problems now,” Keasling said. But, he said this will prevent issues in the future.

There was some concern that this may foster mistrust among employees, but Keasling didn’t think this would arise. “The trend is going to this type of policy,” he said.

The Whistle-blower policy

“This started last summer,” Keasling said. It was a suggestion by a council member, in light of the police department-city controversy.

The whistle-blower protection policy applies to all city staff, whether full-time, part-time, or temporary employees to all volunteers, to all who provide contract services, and to all council members, each of whom shall be entitled to protection, he said. The idea is to provide a safe method for “questionable or unethical activity” to be reported.

It reads, in part, “a protected person shall be encouraged to report information relating to illegal practices or violations of policies of the city. That such person in good faith has reasonable cause to believe is credible. First, information shall be reported to any of the department heads, the human resource director, city administrator or any council member. If individuals are uncomfortable discussing concerns with the above-mentioned staff the city has engaged safe hotline to be its third-party ethics and compliance hotline provider to collect allegations anonymously.” 

Reports can be made 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They can be made by calling or texting a toll-free number or visiting a website.

But, anyone reporting a violation must act in good faith and have reasonable grounds for believing that the information shared in the report indicates that a violation has occurred. Individuals reporting false information are subject to disciplinary actions up to termination.

Keasling said it falls to the HR director to investigate each such report and prepare a report for the department head, city administrator and mayor. Reports of violations or suspected violations will be kept confidential to the extent possible, with the understanding that confidentiality may not be maintained where identification is required by law or in order to enable the City or law enforcement to conduct an adequate investigation.

No person entitled to protection shall be subjected to retaliation, intimidation, harassment or other adverse action for reporting information in accordance with this policy, he said. Any person entitled to protection who believes that he or she is the subject of any form of retaliation for such participation should immediately report it.

This measure passed 6-1 with McPherson voting against it.

Once finalized, both policies will be an amendments to the Employee Handbook.

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