LONGMEADOW — During the Feb. 7 Planning Board meeting, Town Counsel Attorney Jason Talerman advised board members on how to follow Open Meeting Law when using social media and other online public forums.

While Talerman mentioned that there were “a post or two that gave me concern with respect to a municipal board member in Longmeadow,” Assistant Town Manager and Director of Planning and Community Development Corrin Meise-Munns told Reminder Publishing that the discussion was not connected to a specific incident.

She explained that the town has been discussing how the utilization of programs like Google Docs and social media platforms can be considered deliberation if multiple members of a board are present, stating that the Feb. 7 discussion was a “reminder” based on observations Talerman had made in his previous work in other communities.

In his discussion, Talerman first highlighted that officials cannot act as if they speak for an entire board when speaking on social media unless given specific permission by the board.

Talerman explained that officials can state their personal views on an issue, as this falls under officials’ First Amendment rights. However, he cautioned that it must be clear that the opinion is their own and that “I probably would stay away because you’re just going to get bombarded on social media and that’s never any fun.”

The “trouble spot” is when officials act as if they represent the opinion of the board, Talerman said. “I think that’s something that we just need to be mindful of for a few reasons. One, you couldn’t possibly be doing that [speaking for the board] unless the board took a vote and directed that statement out there. And second, you’re a team and teams should all row in the same direction,” he stated.

Concerning how officials’ bias impacts their ability to deliberate on issues, Talerman said that board members are not expected to “shelve your opinions when at the door” of a meeting. Yet, officials’ votes must come from the board’s deliberation, not from personal opinions. Likewise, officials are required to consider the information discussed by the board.

“[Longmeadow officials are] charged with the responsibility to hear impartially the matter before you and keep an open mind. You can come in with a bias, but your ultimate decision has to be a product of the facts,” Talerman said. “So, if you signal that ‘I don’t care what the facts are. I’m canning this thing.’ That’s when liability happens … there’s a line there not to cross.”

“Social media also is famous for things getting taken out of context so that’s why sometimes less is more but I also don’t want to tell people not to have their opinions. You do have your opinions as board members,” he explained.

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