CHATHAM–Town Board members voted to take down the town’s Facebook page after discussing the issue with their attorney, Sal Ferlazzo, at the board meeting last week. But before the vote they allowed town Communications Committee member Linda Ziskind, who launched the page last spring, to explain why the town should have a Facebook book page and why she removed comments on it.
At the February 15 meeting Ms. Ziskind stressed that the board needed a social media policy so that if comments are posted on the town Facebook page that are contrary to the policy, the comments can be removed. Ms. Ziskind said that so far, she had deleted one comment because of its contents. She stressed that there have been only a few people whose comments she considered inappropriate for the page.
Mr. Ferlazzo warned that removing comments could become an issue of First Amendment rights of free speech. “We can’t regulate comments,” he said.
He also said he was not a fan using of Facebook. “It hurts a lot of people,” he told the board.
Councilman Henry Swartz said he had a problem with Ms. Ziskind, who is not a member of the Town Board, reviewing comments and deleting them. “That should be brought to us,” he said. Mr. Swartz had brought up the issue of the board responding to comments on the Facebook page at a January meeting as the Communications Committee was working on guidelines for use of the page. In January he said that if people wanted to comment on what the board was doing they should come to board meetings and comment then, not on social media.
Councilwoman Landra Haber, who is also on the Communications Committee, said the committee was looking a policy to deal with comments that could be “considered trolling or off topic or defamatory.” But after the discussion with Mr. Ferlazzo and Ms. Ziskind, she agreed that the board should remove the page from Facebook. She said she wanted the committee to focus on making the website more interactive and get information to people through email.
“I’m a big fan of Facebook but not for the town,” said Councilman Bob Balcom. Councilman John Wapner also said he didn’t support the Facebook page “as it exists now.”
“It’s a shame we can’t be more ladies and gentlemen, even on social media,” said Supervisor Maria Lull.
The town Highway Department also has a Facebook page that lists information about snow removal and road conditions. Highway Superintendent Joe Rickert said he established very early on that he did not respond to comments on the page.
The board did not ask Mr. Rickert to take down his page.
The board voted unanimously to delete the Facebook page. Ms. Ziskind asked that before it’s taken down the board should release a statement saying why they are removing the page. “If it just disappears you’ll just look stupid,” she said.
Also at the meeting:
• Supt. Rickert told the board that the state Department of Transportation had just responded to him about the plans to put a traffic light on the Albany Turnpike Bridge in East Chatham. He said the DOT has concerns about vehicle traffic backing up on Route 295 if a light is placed there. Mr. Rickert expressed his frustration with the delay in the DOT’s response, saying state officials were only now expressing concerns though they’ve had the plans for several months. “We did all that work months ago,” he said of traffic studies of the site that were sent to the DOT.
The traffic light project is being partially funded by a grant through the office of Senator Kathy Marchione (R-41st). Mr. Rickert said he received a call earlier that week asking about the status of the project from the senator’s office. “The senator really wasn’t happy,” he said of the delay. He also said the delay will affect when the town can ask for construction bids on the project.
“I’m not happy about this,” he said of the state’s late comments. “If I’d held up a permit this long… we’d be in court because I’d be holding up the process,” he told the board
• Councilwoman Haber announced the that Climate Smart Community Committee is moving forward with a plan to install a charging station for electric cars in the parking lot between the Tracy Memorial and Chatham Brewing in the Village of Chatham. The board would need to pass a resolution allowing a charging station in that area and would also need the approval of the Village of Chatham, which co-owns the parking lot with the town. Ms. Haber said she had talked to Village Mayor Tom Curran, who was very interested in the idea and would meet with town representatives soon
• Jan Storm, the town’s new representative on the county’s Environmental Management Council, gave the town a report on the council’s most recent meeting, saying that state representatives presented information on invasive species in the state. She said the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation has information on the Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) program at their website www.dec.ny.gov
• The board has one candidate to interview for the position of Town Judge. Current Judge Jason Shaw, who is one of two town justices, is moving out of the town. The board cannot appoint a new judge until he leaves, and Ms. Lull pointed out that was an issue with timing since a new judge would need to take a state training course in April. There was some discussion about the need for training. According to Councilman Balcom, if the new judge appointed is a lawyer the training is recommended. If the appointee is not a lawyer, the training is mandatory.
Ms. Lull also said that the appointed judge would have to run for election this November
• The board agreed to lease a half acre in Crellin Park to the Children’s Garden Program
• Higher fees for permits were approved. The new fees were discussed at a workshop meeting earlier this month. The new fees take effect immediately.
The next regular board meeting will be Thursday, March 16 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email
‘It’s a shame we can’t be more ladies and gentlemen, even on social media.’
Supv. Maria Lull
Town of Chatham