North Attleboro selectmen take step toward social media policy

Originally published for The Sun Chronicle on March 10, 2017.

NORTH ATTLEBORO — After two elected officials and a selectman candidate were found to have bigoted posts disparaging minority populations on their Facebook pages, selectmen are taking the first step in implementing a long-called for social media policy for elected officials.

The policy is being pushed forward by resident Laurie Lawes, who said she was disheartened to learn that sitting Selectman Paul Belham had posts against Muslims and Mexicans on his Facebook page just a year after RTM member Paul Couturier was expelled from the legislative body for similar posts.

The policy would only apply to selectmen, as the board does not have the authority to compel other boards to adopt a similar policy. But Selectwoman Anne Lonzo said selectmen should take a leading role in implementing the code of conduct and encourage other boards to follow.

Belham received two examples of social media policies in other towns by Lawes, and encouraged the board to study the documents as a starting point for North Attleboro.

“Let’s follow a model that’s already working,” he said.

But, as many board members pointed out, the policy would not be explicitly enforceable as elected officials cannot be fired like an employee.

“What are the ramifications if we don’t follow it?” Lonzo asked.

Belham said rule-breakers would be held accountable by the people of the town.

“This puts us on notice and says people are going to be looking,” he said.

Lawes said she was encouraged to see selectmen moving forward with the policy, especially after it was pushed aside in conversations last year.

And until one is put into place, Selectman Michael Lennox said elected officials should behave like an employee would.

“Until that time, I’m personally willing to abide by what we hold our employees to,” he said.

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