In which I defend Luke Ravenstahl and then the pigs all fly

Today in the Trib is an article covering the fact that City Council members were handed a memo regarding the use of social media during City Council meetings.

Basically the memo informs City Council that the City is working on a social media policy and cautions them to take care with their social media usage.

The memo to council cautions that social media discussions or texting and e-mailing each other during a meeting could cause a conflict with the state’s Sunshine and Open Records laws. The memo reminds council members that they’re restricted from conducting political activities during working hours and in city offices.

Doug Shields is not happy:

“It’s not like five of us get on a Facebook chat and convene a discussion about some type of legislation,” he said.

Bill Peduto is NOT happy, going so far as to call Lukey “Mayor Mubarakenstahl” on Bill’s facebook status in which he also talks about “freedom of expression.”

I am a fan of Bill Peduto’s and I will remain a fan of Bill Peduto’s but in this case, I gotta side with the Mayor and Joanna Doven, who said:

“Councilman Shields should actually read the memo before he once again yells ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.”

While certain members of city council are lashing out in a way that tells me maybe they’re taking this a bit too personally, this appears to me to be a smart practice only because as research will show, other cities are being faced with the same issue. Social media versus Open Records Laws.

Here’s a case in Florida that is even broader reaching than simply city council meetings, but going so far as to record every text:

Florida Sunshine Law watchdogs are keeping a sharp eye on the social media sphere. They want to ensure that all public records remain public and that they can be tied back to the public official who generated them.

Another case:

We don’t want to open up to discussion,“ Murphy said. “We don’t have the infrastructure and we can run into Sunshine (Law) problems, etc.”


The King County Council recently took action to ensure that the County’s use of social media, including Twitter and Facebook, complies with the County’s obligations under various King County and Washington public record laws.

A quick search of “social media and open records law” will have you swimming in articles, PDFs, and blog posts regarding just this thing being addressed in many other cities.

So why is Doug Shields “baffled” by the memo? Beats me.

I guess I’m just not seeing what the big deal is. According to the article, it doesn’t appear the memo is talking about anything other than social media use BY City Council DURING City Council meetings. Yes, City Council and Lukey should make sure the process for writing the policy is done in the proper way and through the proper channels, but it sounds like a policy that City Council should want written especially in light of how litigious our society is these day.

I don’t think this is a case of Luke trying to stick it to City Council, but rather just a case of “better safe than sorry.”

And I don’t think a prospective social media policy that takes open records laws into consideration is worthy to be compared to what happened in Egypt.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hop on this pig and fly to the icy gates of hell.


  1. AngryMongo
    February 18, 2011 4:54 pm

    Bill Peduto is in my Mafia.

  2. BeauJacques
    February 18, 2011 5:20 pm

    What’s next?

    An internet cut-off switch in the City-County building?

    Like China? Egypt?

    Oh wait, that’s what Obama wants!


  3. Me
    February 18, 2011 5:20 pm

    I guess I have another take on this — why do they need to tweet or use Facebook DURING a council meeting at all? I’m an old fart, I guess, but to me, if you are in an important (and as a city resident I hope that members of council see their meetings as important…)BE IN THE MEETING. Not tweeting, not talking on the phone, not updating your Facebook status. Sit up and pay attention. I don’t want my representatives conducting my business and being distracted by ANYTHING. Conduct business. Tweet the world afterwards. The End.

  4. Butcher's Dog
    February 18, 2011 5:38 pm

    I agree with Me. I know…that’s a hell of a sentence for an English teacher to write. Either turn the phones off (that’s OFF, not VIBRATE) or leave them outside the meeting room. Period. Same applies to students in a classroom, says this particular old fart. No need for them, and the potential bad things outweigh any possible good ones.

  5. BeauJacques
    February 18, 2011 5:47 pm

    I wouldn’t want to see council constantly “prairie dogging” texting in sessions though!

  6. BeauJacques
    February 18, 2011 6:16 pm

    Ok, I don’t understand the “Sunshine Law” implications, for instance, if a council member excuses him/herself to take/make a phone call is THAT call considered public info?

  7. Rachel
    February 18, 2011 7:19 pm

    This is why I hate politics…. they’re all a bunch of cry-babies

  8. Bram R
    February 18, 2011 8:00 pm

    I think [GUESSING!!!] Shields was “baffled” by the line about maybe not tweeting from the Table during meetings, in particular. I have some immediate sympathy for that bafflement because that is a practice I really enjoy as a Twitter reader, and I believe the actual set of situations in which smartphoning from the Table would be taboo, open-records-wise, is rather slim.

    I think this is a case of journalists picking out and playing up the “heated” parts of their interviews and stacking them until there’s a real fight. Not that some subjects aren’t always spoiling for a fight, of course.

    If you watched Channel 4 today, you’ll see there was a minor glitch in the Communications software along many of these lines.

  9. Bill Peduto
    February 18, 2011 8:03 pm


    The Memo was about more than just tweeting in Council, it was a warning of use of social media by Councilmembers. It was written as Attorney-Client privilege, which is why I did not post it. However, I did speak with lawyers. It would violate the separation or powers – Mayors, Governors, Presidents cannot create the rules for legislative bodies — that just does not happen in a democratic society. It would violate First Amendment rights – the right of expression, even to disagree or criticize is guaranteed in the Constitution – no Mayor can take that away. And, for many people, facebook and twitter are the accepted and preferred method of communication. I agree that satirizing it to Egypt may have been a poor choice (I will work on the humor) but there is nothing funny about any Executive office trying to limit or end the ability of a legislative body to communicate. See you around town and yes, we are still friends ;)

  10. BeauJacques
    February 18, 2011 9:41 pm

    diff subject-

    Just who do these protesting Wisconsin state employees think they are??

    Port Authority of Allegheny County bus drivers???

  11. It's Time!
    February 18, 2011 9:49 pm

    It’s a substantive issue, but part of Council’s problem — or us laymen’s problem — in accepting admonitions on openness, transparent communications, etc. from the Ravenstahl administration is that this is the same Mayor who has been disturbingly unforthcoming and obstructionist toward any questions about his behavior both in and out of City Hall, going so far as to taunt reporters who would question his honesty, judgment, etc.

    And it’s not just him — Joanna D is The World’s Least Available Spokesperson in the World. Yarone is a bully, but a rather stupid one.

    They wouldn’t know accountability if it died on their doorstep. Which I think it did. A long time ago.

    Given its record, the administration’s presuming to make pronouncements on this topic just seems like another opportunity to pee-pee on the Council’s front lawn.

  12. Virginia
    February 18, 2011 10:39 pm

    Bill, thank you for being a friend. ;)

    You rock.

    While the mayor’s past behavior, and heck CURRENT behavior should of course leave us all wary, I simply think it rash to assume the memo was meant, as It’s Time wrote, to “pee-pee on the Council’s front lawn.” Which, LOL.

    If the mayor’s office tries to write a social media policy affecting city council’s behavior when that should be city council’s job, or if the mayor indeed were to attempt to limit council’s ability to use twitter and facebook outside of council meetings, then you know by God I’ll be writing a scathing post about it in which I’ll probably say the F word.

    For now, it was a memo not mandating anything, not instituting anything, and about a subject that seems pretty valid to me only in light of what some other cities are doing in relation to social media and sunshine laws.

    I guess, let’s just wait and see?


  13. Bram R
    February 19, 2011 2:31 am

    The thing is, City Council and the Mayor have the same lawyer. My impression is that Memo was written by said lawyer with both in mind.

  14. Butcher's Dog
    February 19, 2011 9:21 am

    @BeauJacques #6: Sunshine Law is violated if, say, a majority were texting each other instead of openly debating a particular issue, then took a vote with no discussion. It would be the same as if they went into a room, decided what they were doing privately, then came in and voted. Leaving a meeting to take a call wouldn’t fall into that category. They can discuss personnell issues privately (in executive session, it’s usually called) but the vote has to be public.

  15. unsatisfied
    February 19, 2011 11:53 am

    after seeing the pic of that douchebag now-former US rep chris lee posting that pic of himself on craigslist, I would hope that all politicians would be more responsible for what they post on social media sites.

    I still need some eye bleach.

  16. bucdaddy
    February 19, 2011 12:47 pm

    Butcher’s Dog,

    That’s what I was thinking. They could be cutting deals during meetings via Twitter — “You vote for this and I’ll vote for that” — without ever opening their mouths. It is exactly, as you note, the equivalent of going into the back room, and there are very specific rules for why you can go into executive session just for such reasons, so the public’s business gets done in public and not in the back room, either physical or technological.

    There’s no end to the ways public bodies will try to make private decisions and keep the public out of the public’s business. Try filing an FoIA sometime and see how they snap to it *sarcasm.* Twitter etc. make it way too easy.

    And just at the moment traditional watchdogs like newspapers are on the slide, while TV news prattles on and on about the Steelers.

  17. BeauJacques
    February 19, 2011 3:13 pm

    @bucdaddy & @b-dog: not like simply passing a scribbled Post-It wouldn’t work, or, the tried and true write in on your palm and discretely flash it wouldn’t work! Come on.

    There’s no such thing as foolproof transcripts.

    Deals get cut regardless, nature of the beast.

  18. Butcher's Dog
    February 19, 2011 4:45 pm

    @BeauJacques: Deals get cut? May or may not be happening in Wisconsin, eh? Still, the purpose of Sunshine is to have as much of the public’s business done in, well, public as possible. Peduto may have a point in complaining that the executive branch shouldn’t be setting standards for the legislative branch (seems kinda funny to use those exalted terms for Pgh. mayor and city council!), but if they can’t control themselves someone outside needs to do the controlling.

  19. bucdaddy
    February 19, 2011 6:11 pm


    Well, I’m guessing it at least used to take some contortionism to get a note from one side of the table to the other without the five people in between taking a look at it. Now you can just Tweet that message from your lap while looking like you’re half asleep (the politician’s natural state) at the table, so no one will ever be the wiser.

    Apologies for an error in the previous comment, I meant to write:

    TV “news.”

    Remember the Pittsburgh TV “news” motto: If it bleeds black and gold, it leads.

  20. BeauJacques
    February 20, 2011 7:38 am

    Nod nod wink wink, know what I mean?

  21. Dana @littlebirdiecom
    February 20, 2011 7:57 pm

    I agree with you on this on, Ginny. Honestly, having a social media plan is not only smart, but it protects everyone. It gives guidelines so all parties are on the same page.

    Enjoy your pig ride!

  22. Dan (Not Onorato)
    February 21, 2011 8:56 am

    Phones, computers, etc, should be off anyway during the meetings. That drives me nuts during school board meetings or council meetings.

    This is common sense and should not even be an issue.

  23. bucdaddy
    February 21, 2011 11:41 am

    That’s the thing about common sense, it’s not very common.