by Jay Lawson
Bill Brooker asked the Town Board about progress it is making with the Social Media control policy that was advocated by Councilwoman Mary Brophy Moore at the Board’s meeting on November 2nd.
Councilwoman Moore had suggested a policy to prevent Councilpersons from posting to their social media pages without fact-checking and approval from the full Town Board.
Moore said she had hoped to come up with precise wording for the policy at the November 10th meeting.
“Let’s be clear. I don’t think the Board [as a whole] ever said they were going to do anything,” Supervisor Riehle told Brooker.
The policy had been motivated by a post Brooker made to his private campaign page.
Brooker described an encounter he had with a local resident, where the resident suggested that the handling of the 2014 police department audit could have been done for less cost.
Brooker also recounted what he said was a not-uncommon street price of $400,000 for the investigation.
All Board members agreed that the figure was not reflective of the actual cost, that it was even grossly inflated, according to Councilman Herron, but no Board member would put forth an official figure or estimate.
Regardless, Councilwoman Moore admonished Brooker for not checking his facts, and described him as irresponsible for posting a street account with incorrect information.
“We all reacted in a negative way, because it was written as though there were facts being presented to people that might vote for you,” Moore said.
Brooker is a candidate for a Town Board seat that will be decided next week after the counting of absentee ballots.
Councilwoman Kate Russell said Brooker made the information appear factual by attributing it to “a reliable source.”
Councilwoman Moore said the way Brooker heard the information from the source (a retired state trooper) and wrote it is not true.
Brooker disagreed, saying that the encounter he described happened exactly the way he said.
Councilwoman Moore said it is her belief that Brooker was intending to stir an old pot.
According to Brooker, he was describing a pot exactly as he found it.
Brooker asked Moore to share the true cost of the audit.
“I know it was nowhere near $400,000. That is something else you could have fact checked, but you didn’t do it. And what I’m saying is, we were reacting because what you said was so out there and offensive to this Board,” Moore said.
Brooker admonished Councilwoman Moore for not calling him directly, instead bringing it up at a public board meeting.
“I didn’t even want to dignify it,” Moore said.
Getting back to the Town Board social media policy, Moore pulled back from it for 2015.
“It could be that the new board decides not to have a policy, that they hope people will just use common sense and not do that,” she said.
And she conceded that, even with a policy, the effect may well be nonexistent.
“You can’t regulate what people are going to say. You’re right, you can’t,” she said.
“But I think people have to be aware, too, that if you are in a position of responsibility—especially if you are an elected official in this town—that you have to be very sensitive to what you say and do, and how you present things as fact or seemingly fact that aren’t. Because there are repercussions,” Moore said.
Councilman J.B. Herron described attempts to control people’s social media postings as an exercise in futility.
“How can we stop Facebook? I mean there’s nothing we can do. Why would we try? You can write anything you want,” he said.
Herron instead encouraged people to not believe everything they hear or read without verifying it.
“Perception becomes reality. It doesn’t mean it’s true. But you get enough people talking about it, and then people believe it,” he said.
Herron then spoke specifically to the police audit and the confusion and beliefs about it in the community.
“I think the taxpayers have the right to know what that [audit] cost,” he said.
“This whole thing has divided our community, and it’s not right the way it has done this. And…people say the board handled it wrong. I don’t know how we could have handled it different. If we could have done it better, by God I would have loved to,” Herron said.
Herron said he lamented the human cost as well.
“We have an individual that’s been dedicated to this community as far as fire department and everything. Something happened, and that’s all we can say. It doesn’t make anybody a…bad person. We’re all members of this community, and we need to stick together and not just bicker about a bunch of stuff that we can’t control. Five people of this community didn’t decide to conduct a witch hunt to ruin somebody’s life. I wish all the cards were on the table…but it’s just not that way,” Herron said.
Audience participant Ted Russell took the conversation back to the item that no one seems to know for sure, but everyone seems to be guesstimating on the street and on social media.
“What did it cost?” Ted Russell said.
“For the audit?” Council-woman Moore said. “Honestly… Do you remember, Dick?” she asked Town Attorney Richard Frye.
“Would you like to share that number?” Supervisor Riehle asked Mr. Frye.
Frye said he has the cost at about $140,000.
“Does that include the ancillary cost of hiring people to take over and things like that? Or is that just the actual cost of the audit?” Ted Russell said.
“It all depends on who you are talking about,” Frye said. “I mean, that includes people we paid; it was Joe Lozcynski and it’s two investigators… the people we paid to do investigation for the present chief… Anything that went through my office, that was the amount.”
“But is that what the total cost was? That’s what I’m asking you,” Russell said.
“As far as I’m concerned, that’s the total cost. Now, other people can throw other costs in if they want, I don’t know. [But] that’s what I know. And you could argue all day, I suppose, about any auxiliary costs,” said Attorney Frye.
Bill Brooker said to Frye that those are costs that people want to know. All the costs, including the indirect costs. How much did the taxpayers spend on this?
“Who is going to determine which [cost] is related and which isn’t related, and so forth? I’m telling you that’s the cost as I see it. And somebody else may see it differently,” said Attorney Frye.
“Right,” said Brooker.