City council seemingly disapproves of social media involvement in public matters

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

As far as the Oak Ridge City Council knew, Monday night’s meeting was the first to have an overflow capacity crowd. Blame the media — particularly social media.

While such a strong show of civic engagement might seem like a good thing, certain council members suggested residents discussing public business on social media was unfortunate.

Councilwoman Trina Baughn had a lot to do with why people on Facebook pages are discussing Oak Ridge Police Chief James Akagi’s ability to serve.

For this, Councilman Charlie Hensley proposed a resolution that, if aproved, would have formally expressed the council’s disapproval of Baughn.

Photo courtesy of Oak Ridge Government's official website

Photo courtesy of Oak Ridge Government’s official website Charlie Hensley

Hensley’s resolution also was to kick Baughn off all committee assignments.

By the end of the night, Hensley withdrew his resolution, and the council voted in favor of hiring a third-party to investigate why Akagi’s department has so many turnovers.

As Tennessee Watchdog reported, one former police officer said in a formal complaint last month that Akagi is vindictive toward his officers. That, Baughn said, is possibly why so many police officers, reportedly 30 out of 76, have left. 

But before final votes were tallied, Hensley and others blasted on social media.

“I’ve had nausea and a headache all week because of this resolution,” Hensley said, pointing out he disapproves of past situations in which Baughn encouraged people to send letters to the news media about the city’s school system.

Baughn, Hensley said, should have discussed the situation with the council first. Her actions, he said, resulted in “pre-released quasi-facts and smear tactics,” particularly with regards to Akagi.

“Sure, we’ve got things to investigate, but to hang him out to dry in the press when he’s never had an opportunity to present his case to us is unfair,” Hensley said.

Akagi has declined Tennessee Watchdog’s multiple requests for comment, deferring instead to City Manager Mark Watson.

Hensley said he disapproves of the remarks people have made about Akagi on social media and said they give him “great concern.”

Councilwoman Ellen Smith disapproved of Baughn’s tactics.

“We as council members have an awful lot of power to create positive change by working behind the scenes with city staff when something comes up,” Smith said.

“We don’t need to run to the media to have influence.”

Photo courtesy of Facebook

Photo courtesy of Facebook GOOD FOR THE GOOSE: Despite decrying a councilwoman’s use of media to complain about public matters, Oak Ridge City Councilwoman Ellen Smith took to Facebook to complain about Tennessee Watchdog.

Ultimately, Smith said she wouldn’t support Hensley’s proposed resolution.

Councilman Chuck Hope, meanwhile, also disapproved.

“I regret we have to spread it across the media and social media to the point that we have the biggest amount of people in this room since I’ve been on the council — standing room only, all the way to the back doors,” Hope said.

Photo courtesy Trina Baughn

Trina Baughn

 

“When the fire chief has to pull people out of the room because we have so many people, then it’s very obvious that it was very passionate among all the people that these are issues that people have concerns about and need to be addressed.”

In response to all this, Baughn told council members she had no choice but to talk to the media because the city attorney warned her not to discuss these issues with others on the council.

“Information is bottlenecked through city staff. The content and the slant of the information is controlled through by where the public is receiving it or are we are receiving it,” Baughn said, adding 95 percent of what the Oak Ridge government does is unknown to most people.

“Public involvement is a good thing. Public business is the business of the public,” Baughn said, adding her previous attempts to discuss these matters with Watson, the city manager, ended in failure.

One other council member, seemed to suggest that the media served a useful purpose, adding he ran for office because the city was getting too much negative press.

“Ms. Baughn has a way of talking, and it’s not what I would do. But she has definitely brought out things that I think needed to be brought out,” said Councilman Rick Chinn Jr.

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