Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 3.52.53 PMby Jack Mayne Months of rancor over a Councilmember’s use of social media finally culminated Monday night (Sept. 21) with approval of guidelines that permits a member to be censured if caught Tweeting during meetings. The Council has – for nearly two full years – been haggling and debating and trying to develop a form of Robert’s Rules that would apply to Burien Council meetings. The quest included hiring a professional to train the members in the rules, and develop guidelines that include making the Burien city attorney the Council’s guide to questions of how meeting conflicts are decided. It was apparent that the majority of the Council did not approve of Councilmember Lauren Berkowitz’s use of Twitter (@BurienBerkowitz) to “Tweet” messages on what was happening at the meetings. Her Tweets sometimes were just informative, other times they included her opinions on the behavior of other Councilmembers. Then it became known that any such communication while the Council was in session would be considered by the state to be a public utterance and, thus, subject to the Washington Open Meetings Act. That means the records of such communications have to be stored to be available if a citizen demanded to see them. ‘Express disapproval’ The proposal worked for a long time, then got restructured by the city staff, who said members using social media during sessions could be censured. City Attorney Soojin Kim told the Monday meeting that censure would not prevent the member from voting or participating, it just would be to “express disapproval” by the rest of the Council. The proposal said, “Councilmembers should refrain from the following … posting, sending or reading electronic communications while a Council meeting is in session …” Berkowitz said the standard for making rules on meetings is “not what you like, but actual disruption” and she suggested that there was no actual disruption created by posting a message, noting there was no disruption created during this meeting because she had been posting to Twitter. “You may notice I got quiet,” she posted. “That is bc (because) the council voted to punish tweeting during meetings w censure, thereby unconstitutionally silencing me.” She said she did not “appreciate the minimization of the harm that is caused by actual censure.” The B-Town Blog checked and found that Congress allows live Tweeting from the floors of both houses while they are in session. Many professions require censures be reported to their governing bodies. Berkowitz is a recent law school graduate and could be a practicing lawyer soon. Council censure would likely apply to her and could cause her trouble or even the loss of her license to practice law. “Although censure seems like not a big deal, the harm caused by censure … can be a huge deal.” She also maintained that censure was limiting speech and expression because of added impact of the penalty. “If the citizens do not like the way a Councilmember is behaving, the correct response is to remove that person from office,” Berkowitz said. No penalty? She moved to eliminate the punishment, or censure, for violating the ban on social media during Council sessions. If that is done, she said, for the first time, she could compromise and support the measure. Deputy Mayor Nancy Tosta supported Berkowitz’s change to make actions “aspirational” rather than mandatory and subject to penalties. Councilmembers Bob Edgar, Debi Wagner and Steve Armstrong all felt that censure should stay. Wagner said someone with a potential of added punishment would be more careful to avoid that fate. Mayor Lucy Krakowiak said she also favored retaining censure because it is a part of Robert’s Rules of Order. The moved to eliminate censure failed 4-3. Berkowitz Tweeted this right after the vote: BerkowitzProhibitTweet Berkowitz told the Council this was a “great example of how the rules are being used and written to silence me, specifically as a Councilmember. I am the only one that tweets during meetings. I think the rule speaks for itself and I encourage you all to vote no.” She also said that waiting and saying something later was not acceptable to her generation and neither if it is televised because television was an “outdated media.” Robison said he found it disturbing that the move against Tweeting was from Councilmembers who were opposed to Berkowitz. The Council vote to take out censure failed, 4-3. Then the Council voted to approve the entire meetings guideline package, 5-2. School Police Officer questioned The city is trying to clean up its various contracts with outside agencies, and City Manager Kamuron Gurol asked the Council to approve a cost sharing agreement with the Highline School District for the school resource officer. Finance Director Kim Krause said most cities have such agreements where the schools pay part of a police officer’s cost and that officer then works in the schools and is available should there be behavior problems. The officer, usually at Highline High School, works with students in a variety of ways, not just disciplinary actions. The total cost of the officers is $151,000 and the city would pay half, or $75,500, Krause said. She noted that during the summer the officer is assigned to city police assignments, and the city fully pays that part of the salary. Councilmember Berkowitz opposed the resource officer, saying, “a tremendous amount of research” shows police in schools “actually increases the violence and crime in schools” that “are an extraordinarily safe place for children.” She said she thought the money would be better spent “doing other things – I don’t think the city should be spending money putting police in schools.” Councilmember Wagner said she has two children who attended Highline High and another is there now. Valuable Resource “I am aware of several incidents that could have escalated to a much more dangerous situation had that resource officer not been available,” Wagner said. “I do believe that parents believe there is nothing more important than the safety of their children.” With the reports of problems in schools around the nation, she said it was a valuable resource she supported. Berkowitz mentioned a study that says violence is actually going down in schools, despite the occasional major incident, and studies show the use of police officers in school “is not working.” Councilmembers then spent several minutes arguing over procedural rules while trying to decide whether to vote or whether Berkowitz could ask more questions and over whether points of order were appropriate. Ultimately, the decision of the resource officer expense sharing was off to a future meeting. In another action, the Council fired City Arts Commissioner Jhoanna Whyte because she has not been attending meetings on a regular basis. The Council voted unanimously to remove her and declare her position open to a new appointee.]]>