Madison Heights City Councilor Kymm Clark sent the city her resignation letter a day after council approved a new social media policy in a 5-2 vote earlier this week.
Council members voted unanimously Thursday night, with Clark abstaining, to formally accept his resignation.
Clark is a director with several others on many private social media accounts focused on city events and activities, including the Friends of Madison Heights and the Madison Heights Neighborhood Forum on Facebook.
Clark’s resignation letter did not explicitly mention the new social media policy adopted by council on Monday, but said she would continue to remain involved in “engaging my community, educating them about our municipal government” and encouraging development and bring “a more accessible quality of life programming to our residents.
She demanded that her resignation be accepted for the sake of her “mental, emotional and physical health”.
City council members have received training through the Michigan Municipal League on members’ use of social media and how this may conflict with the state’s open meetings law , said City Manager Melissa Marsh.
“The policy objective (of social media) encourages board members to separate their public and private social media accounts,” Marsh said, “and to prevent any board member from engaging in public censorship in actions or communications that take place on social media. ”
A number of people blocked on Facebook pages where Clark is one of the administrators have complained to city officials.
Clark said she believed the city’s new social media policy was unconstitutional and had contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, the Michigan attorney general’s office and others. Clark noted that the social media groups she is involved with are private Facebook groups, not official city groups.
“Politics was aimed at me because I am extremely involved in the community,” she said. “The policy would have meant that I should have unblocked people (Facebook pages) who harass (other) residents and me” online.
At the board meeting on Monday, Clark said someone she blocked on a Facebook page threatened her. She said a man with a profile picture of himself with guns strapped to his chest, sent her a private message on Facebook saying he “would make sure I never got elected if it was the last thing he did “.
Madison Heights’ new social media policy would have required it to unblock such people, Clark said.
City Attorney Larry Sherman drafted the Social Media Policy for Elected Officials based on legal opinions drawn from existing case law.
“If you don’t discuss city business on private pages, you can block whoever you want,” he said. “In our opinion, what crosses the line is when the business of the city gets mixed up with a private Facebook page. “
City affairs are defined as anything relating to the affairs of the council or the city, he said.
“This policy is not as aggressive as several (nearby) communities consider it,” Sherman said.
Mayor Roslyn Grafstein called for a social media policy, she said, due to “the number of complaints I have received (from)… people have been kicked out of these (social media) forums” .
Madison Heights has 30 different private forums, she added.
The complaints come from people who feel blocked from finding out what is going on in the city, Grafstein said, even when the mayor explained that these were private forums.
But people don’t see the difference between public and private Facebook pages on city issues.
“They see (the forums) relate to the city and one of the council members is running the page,” Grafstein said. “The problem is, there is point of view discrimination by a board member.”
With its social media policy, Madison Heights tries to avoid finding itself in a legal situation, she added.
Sherman cited a recent case ruling that whenever a public official engages in a public discussion, it constitutes a public forum. The official cannot use the pretense of being a private citizen to avoid First Amendment rights imposed on the government to avoid restricting another person’s free speech rights.
Still, Clark asked at Monday’s meeting whether officials had weighed the motives of those who complained about being blocked on Facebook forums.
“Did you think that people who complained that they were blocked because of their beliefs could lie,” Clark asked, “and could have said and done things to other people that they want them to do? hurt and want to hurt their family? And (they) could come and make an affidavit and fill it with lies? “
Clark was elected for a four-year term in 2019 which expires in 2023.
When such a vacancy occurs, the city charter directs the council to fill the vacancy for the unexpired term with the highest number of votes in the last municipal council election.
That person is Sean Fleming, who is one of six candidates vying for one of three four-year council seats in the Nov. 2 election.
City council is expected to appoint Fleming for the remainder of Clark’s term at its October 11 meeting.
The social media policy is available on the city’s website in the city council’s agenda for its September 27 meeting.