Westphalia aldermen discuss social media impact on policies

By Theresa Brandt, Staff Writer
Posted 5/10/23

WESTPHALIA —   Westphalia aldermen discussed how social media affects local policies and questioned whether it is necessary to put together an ordinance on how elected city officials …

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Westphalia aldermen discuss social media impact on policies


WESTPHALIA —  Westphalia aldermen discussed how social media affects local policies and questioned whether it is necessary to put together an ordinance on how elected city officials should be participating in social media. There were two reasons the topic came up at the April 15 meeting.

Aldermen Lori Asel posted an explanation on her personal Facebook account regarding the “Election Question” in the April 4 election that authorized the city to forgo annual elections if the number of candidates who have filed for office is equal to the number of positions to be filled. The post was shared by “Westphalia Happenings,” a Facebook site unaffiliated with the city of Westphalia. “Westphalia Happenings” moderators identified that the post was coming from Asel.

Mayor Tammy Massman explained that “Westphalia Happenings” is not condoned by the city for posting city business and that the proper format to address city issues is at board meetings.

“The reason it was brought up as an issue of concern was because it was not an affiliated site for the city,” Massman said.

“My original post was on my personal Facebook page, and I was talking about something I was asked about,” Asel explained. “My original post does not say anything about being an alderman. I had a couple of people ask me about not having an election, and it got shared on ‘Westphalia Happenings.’”

“I guess the question is, why wasn’t that discussed at the meeting?” Mayor Massman asked. “It was the same week we had a meeting, and we did not have a conversation about there being questions.”

“You are not going to be able to stop someone from posting what they want on their own page,” Alderman Stanley Heckman said.

Massman agreed but explained that she had a conversation with the city’s attorney. He wanted to caution aldermen to be conscientious about what they were posting.

“He wants everyone to be on the same page,” Heckman said.

“It was shared with them,” Asel said. “That was their choice (to identify the post as coming from an alderman), and I don’t see an issue with it. I wasn’t going at it in any specific way. I just explained it.”

“It was questioned whether or not that was the stance from the Board of Aldermen,” Massman replied.

“It wasn’t a stance,” Asel said. “It just explained it. When I read it in the newspaper, it was hard to understand, so I explained what it was.”

“For three meetings, in January, February, and March, in every single meeting, there were announcements about the people running and for everyone to get out and vote,” Massman said. “It’s just the conscious awareness that when we are speaking on behalf of the city if there are issues that need to be addressed, they need to be addressed here. One person’s view is not the view of the whole board.”

Massman asked if aldermen wanted to put together an ordinance that addressed participation in social media by board members. The topic may be brought up again at a later date.

The other issue with social media has been that there are several active businesses within the city limits operating without a business license. The only reason that Mayor Massman was aware of them was through their social media posts promoting their businesses and products.

“There are people who have migrated to the city limits who believe it is this cute, quaint community that doesn’t have any rules of governing, and there is something that has been in place and has been recognized for a long time,” Massman said. “The code has been in place for a long time. To claim that it is not there or doesn’t exist is completely invalid.”

Massman did not want to disclose the names of the businesses or their owners until they came forward and filed for a license.

“When a formal request is submitted, then it is up for discussion,” Massman said.

She gave an example that if someone wanted to sell things out of their home, even if they were selling them online, they are still operating a business. At that point, residential zones may affect whether or not they are allowed to operate based on current Westphalia zoning laws.

“They would have to request a license from the state, the county, and the city,” Massman said. “Is it ignorance of the law? If they are selling things, even online, they are still generating revenue, and it is still a business.”

“Ignorance of the law is not an excuse,” Alderman Delbert Wieberg said.

Asel added that she thought that, in some cases, people were allowed to have businesses out of their homes.

“Certain areas are zoned residential, and only certain occupations are allowed as businesses in those zones,” Massman said.

She continued to explain that there were formal processes to go through if the business owners requested an exception.

“You have to have a business license in the state of Missouri to request a city business license,” Massman said. “Everyone should be asking these different questions.”

Massman went on to explain that aldermen and herself, as mayor and city clerk, were available for phone calls and email, and both were listed on the city’s website.

“I still don’t understand where the website is,” Asel said. “It’s got to be very basic, and this is the kinda stuff that would be great to have on there.”

Massman directed Asel to the website address, cityofwestphaliamo.com, and noted that it has been live for quite a while, though she admitted the information on the website is minimal.

“Is someone updating the website regularly?” Asel asked. “Who is in charge of updating it?”

Massman responded that as city clerk and mayor, she oversaw updates after the site was initially set up.

Asel replied that there weren’t any recent minutes posted and that there was no information or maps on zoning on the website.

“I put things on there when I have time to work on the project independently,” Massman said.

She explained that all the documents that need to be uploaded onto the site are on the city’s computer and that only a city administrator can access those files. Updating the site would be above and beyond the duties of the city clerk.

“There is going to need to be a fee for services because it is over the expectation of normal duties,” Massman explained.

“For the city clerk, too?” Asel questioned. “I have volunteered to work on this, and no one has ever contacted me.”

“The website is above and beyond the normal duties of the city clerk,” Massman said. “That is an extra, separate entity of its own that would encompass more time and effort than the duties that are already assigned to that office. I’ve been doing it to this point without extra fees. There is a zoning map that is ready to be uploaded, but I haven’t had a rainy day to sit there and do that.”

“I’ve asked you a couple of times to help, and I’ve never heard from anyone,” Asel said.

“You have my contact information, and the computer is in my home,” Massman said. “It would have to be a joint effort to filter through all the documents to find what needs to be uploaded. I’m not opposed to continuing to upload these documents, but it can’t be on a timetable only one person thinks is reasonable, given the other duties that are assigned and that I am working full-time.”

“The city clerk has 20 hours a week for $20 per hour, correct?” Asel asked.

“Do you not believe that those hours are being vested?” Massman shot back. “The number of reports last month alone, I’d hate to tell you how many hours above and beyond that number I’ve worked.”

Massman noted that most city websites are under construction and are not entirely current unless they have full-time staffers.

“It’s not about a job,” Wieberg said. “It’s about caring for the community and trying to keep costs down. It’s about work.”

Wieberg noted that he ran for office because he was worried about the wastewater system.

“I went after the sewer system because I was worried about the infrastructure of the city,” Wieberg said. “Someone had to step up.”

Wieberg explained that he had never asked to be paid for his time and only wanted to be reimbursed for materials that he needed.

Asel noted that she would be willing to work on the website because she believes it is necessary information for businesses and residents to have at their fingertips.

“People are choosing not to utilize the city’s phone or the city’s email address to send some correspondence as a request,” Massman said. “It is not that the information is not being provided and is not accessible. They are just choosing not to access it with the means they have available.”

“But information is at our fingertips,” Asel argued. “We have smartphones. We should be able to download the maps and download what we need to see and not have to make a phone call or send an email.”

Massman promised to do her best to get more information posted on the city’s website.

“People have the means to access the information,” Massman said. “I shouldn’t have to chase down residents that aren’t aware of the fact that they are practicing a business where it is not allowed. It is everyone’s responsibility if you are moving within the city limits, to know that you are subject to codes and regulations.”

“People know the law, but if they don’t have access to the zoning maps and regulations, how do they know to follow them?” Asel asked.

“If people want to be vested in the community, this is a great place to come,” Massman said. “We have not had attendees complaining at the meeting. They complain on social media or at the bar. We cannot attend to these issues if they are not brought forward. “

Massman noted that aldermen and residents can request that items be added to the agenda for discussion.

Remaining business will be presented next week.


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