The Board of Neighborhood Councils, or BONC, introduced a draft media policy for all neighborhood councils at BONC’s Oct. 6 meeting. The policy dictates how neighborhood councils can use their websites, social media accounts, and newsletters.
Its rules include forbidding the council’s digital media from promoting anything other than official neighborhood council events and forbidding members of neighborhood councils or committees from using their own social media accounts or websites to spread information about neighborhood councils. In addition, the councils will be required to select an account administrator to oversee the council’s digital media and an account moderator to ensure that these rules are being followed.
“This is sort of typical city attorney risk management stuff,” said Doug Epperhart, president of the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council. “This isn’t so much about actually creating useful and workable digital policies for neighborhood councils as it is the city trying to protect itself from some unhappy individual who might not like what the neighborhood council puts on Instagram.”
Epperhart said that this policy, along with most of the rules DONE has for the neighborhood Councils, are attempts by the city attorney to protect the city.
“They want to essentially legally put board members on notice, so that if board members do wrong things, the city can come forward and say, ‘Hey, don’t look at us, we told you not to do this,’” Epperhart said. “If the neighborhood council board member or a person gets sued for instance, this gives the city cover to go, ‘Don’t look at us, you’re on your own.’”
Raquel Beltrán, general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, or DONE, said that the purpose of introducing the policy was to decide how long it would be until BONC acted on it. BONC ultimately decided to allow 90 days for discussion on the policy and plans on acting on it at their January meeting.
“We took a look at the kinds of issues that neighborhood councils have been experiencing, not merely over the past year,” Beltrán said. “We did a bit of an inventory of the types of concerns and issues that they’ve been grappling with that involve digital and social media.”
Beltrán said that sometimes when DONE receives requests for help to deal with these types of issues, DONE does not respond because it needs more policy direction. This policy was created as a formal document they could refer to. It was also inspired by the city’s digital media policy.
“I did take a look at the document, and it scared the heck out of me,” said Ray Regalado, president of the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council and vice president of BONC. “It’s very comprehensive, so I knew I had to sit down and really look it over.” Regalado is in total agreement with waiting 90 days before acting on the policy, as it is a long document.
“It’s going to be something that’s going to need … an opportunity for neighborhood councils to have time to look at it, read it, maybe even discuss it in one manner or another and come back to us,” Regalado said.
Epperhart said this policy is an attempt by BONC and DONE to remain relevant. He also said the policy itself is not too strict, as many of the rules are well-known by people with experience in media, such as not slandering people or not using copyrighted material without permission. He said this is a recitation of many of these things, and it could be beneficial for inexperienced neighborhood council members.
Epperhart said there are rules in the policy that DONE cannot enforce, such as what people put on their personal social media accounts.
“You can’t legally restrict someone’s first amendment rights,” Epperhart said. “They would love to be able to do that to neighborhood council board members. On the other hand, if you’re a neighborhood council board member and you have a personal account talking about or on behalf of the neighborhood council using the city seal or your neighborhood council logo, yeah, that’s a no-no, that’s a no-no for anybody and everybody.”
Wendy Moore, owner of Moore Business results, said this policy would impede the councils’ objective of citizens participating in government. Moore redesigned the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council’s website in 2019, and has worked on digital media with other neighborhood councils for 17 years. Moore argued that forbidding the councils from promoting events unassociated with the councils would be to their detriment.
“Stakeholders are passionate about a lot of issues and it would behoove councils to use topics of interest to stakeholders to get them involved, whether or not the council has specific jurisdiction,” Moore said.
This rule is already Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council’s policy, Epperhart said. His council does not promote events unaffiliated with the council because an unsavory organization might ask for their help as well.
“[If] the Proud Boys San Pedro chapter sends us a flier saying ‘We are having a pro-America first rally … at Point Fermin park, here’s our flier’ and we say ‘no,’ there’s nothing to stop them from running to the city saying ‘If they’re doing it for that group, they have to do it for our group,’” Epperhart said.
Jennifer Goodie, board member of Mid City Neighborhood Council, said that parts of the policy are too strict and don’t allow for normal operation.
“Only being able to promote meetings, membership and official events is very limiting,” Goodie said. “Our neighborhood has a monthly trash clean-up, but it’s informal, it’s not an official event, we would no longer be able to ask our stakeholders to participate.”
Another organization that Goodie’s council works with distributes free food, and her council is planning a social media campaign to celebrate Black History Month. Her council would not be able to post about either of these things under the new policy.
Goodie said that whoever wrote the policy was not familiar with the grassroots form of outreach.
“NCs have to deal with our limited resources,” Goodie said. “A lot of stakeholder engagement, especially right now during COVID times, involves social media. The vagueness of some sections of this policy allow for potential overreach.”
Joyce Fletcher, president of the Woodland Hills/Warner Center Neighborhood Council, said she has served on her council alongside individuals who use their own social media and blogs to ruin the reputation of her council and of its board members. Her council is unable to do anything about it.
Fletcher said 90 days was too long to wait, and wished the policy could be implemented sooner.
“These board members are a very negative force on the board, erode board participation, and greatly erode the trust of our stakeholders who read these very negative media posts,” Fletcher said.