Louisville Metro Councilwoman Attica Scott, D-1, promoted a congressional candidate using her official Twitter account, which is in violation of the city’s code of ethics.
In a July 12 message sent from Scott’s district Twitter account, she encourages followers to donate to fellow Democrat Elisabeth Jensen of Lexington, who is seeking to run for Congress against Republican Andy Barr next year.
“You can donate to @JensenElis to represent Kentucky 6th District in Congress at elisabethforkentucky.com”
Scott did have a personal Twitter account prior to being elected to the council that she used for campaigning and to express other political views, but that handle has been inactive for several months.
The @CW_AtticaScott is her official handle that lists her district web address and includes the city seal.
In 2010, the council amended the city’s code of ethics to make it a violation for Metro officers to use any “government funds, equipment supplies, vehicles, or facilities” to advocate for a person’s political candidacy, including their own. It bars officials from using Metro Government resources for the purpose of engaging in activities that “advocate the candidacy of a person for political office.”
Thse changes were in reaction to former Republican Councilman Doug Hawkins, who used his official city e-mail to send out campaign materials and was heavily criticized for it.
“You’re elected to represent everybody in the district and for you to officially go out there campaigning and soliciting funds as an elected official you are telling everyone to vote for them,” says Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7, who has a personal Twitter account. “For me to use an official seal or stationary to put my name and tie it to a campaign, really that crosses a line I think.”
Fleming says he hopes this isn’t the start of a pattern for Scott, and given the new technology it could be a simple mistake.
In recent months, several other council members have joined social networking sites in their official capacity to promote district events and alert constituents of ordinances or neighborhood changes.
But most appear to have avoided commenting on or endorsing candidates in state or federal elections.
“There are some things I would say on my personal account that I would not say on my council member account,” says Councilman David James, D-6, who uses Facebook and Twitter to update constituents on district news.
Metro Government’s social media policy also specifically forbids employees from posting comments in support or opposition to political campaigns in their official capacity. The council voluntarily adheres to those guidelines, and other city lawmakers who use the social media argue there needs to be a separation in using their office resources to campaign for themselves or others.
Scott is a prolific user of social media, who often sends messages out about initiatives in the district regarding anti-violence and vacant properties. A former labor union organizer, Scott also uses Twitter to express her views on other political and social justice issues.
Mayor Greg Fischer has also used social networking to get his message out and has held a number of online town hall meetings with residents. But the mayor’s office points out Fischer uses two separate accounts, one for his office and another for his campaign.
“From the mayor’s end, he keeps a separate Twitter and Facebook for his campaign that’s not connected with city government,” says mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter. “It’s no different from the old policy. It’s just a different tool. You can’t be doing political work in a government. The regulations are clear you shouldn’t be doing that with an official resource.”
Council members are offered courses on the city’s social media policy and the county attorney has advised lawmakers on polices regarding other electronic devices. It is unclear if Scott has attended any of those voluntary meetings.
“In this particular case from talking with the councilwoman it was more of a lapse in judgment,” says Democrat caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt. “She has never done anything like that before, especially using the word ‘donate.’ It’s just one time where she just made an error in judgment using that word.”
Scott did not respond to our request for comment.
UPDATE 6:35 p.m.: The Tweet urging constituents to donate to Jensen’s campaign was apparently deleted Monday afternoon. It is unclear if that was before or after WFPL’s story.
Scott thanked the radio station in an online message “for keeping me in check,” but has not responded to phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.
“I will mos def (sic) do a better job of representing folks in
#TheNewD1,” says Scott.
UPDATE 10:10 p.m.: Scott says she deleted the message in order to be in compliance with city policy.
“The county attorney’s office often reminds us to think about what we are posting on social media,” she says.