Ethics: City Employee ‘Likes’ Tommy Waters on City Time
From Honolulu Ethics Commission, Advisory Opinion 2019-2 (excerpts)
On May 21, 2018, the Commission received a concern that Official commented favorably and “liked” Candidate’s campaign Instagram account using an official city agency’s Instagram account.
When asked about the postings, Official stated that Official mistakenly used an official city agency’s Instagram account instead of Official’s personal Instagram account. Official acknowledged the mistake and knew it was wrong.
After Official realized the mistake, Official immediately removed the posting and “like.” Several days later the mayor cautioned his cabinet members to be “extra careful” with any statements that may seem to support a candidate.
The following day, the City administration issued a memorandum on “Campaign Activities” to all city employees. The memo reminded all employees of their duties and responsibilities regarding participating in political campaigns and referenced the Commission’s guidance on campaign activities.
Shortly thereafter, the administration advanced a new social media policy. As of the date of this Advisory Opinion, a draft social media policy was pending review by relevant public worker unions.
The Commission determined that there was likely probable cause of an ethics violation because Official knew that the conduct violated the law. But, as explained below, the Commission reviewed the totality of the circumstances and also confirmed the conduct as de minimis, dismissed the complaint, and did not impose a civil fine on Official.
First, Official’s favorable comments on Candidate’s Instagram account using a city agency’s Instagram account makes it appear as if the City endorses Candidate. Official did not post favorable comments or “like” the campaign Instagram accounts of other City Council candidates. Thus, Official used Official’s position to give preferential treatment to Candidate.
Second, Official used Official’s city computer equipment to post comments and “like” Candidate’s campaign Instagram account. The Ethics Commission’s Revised Guidelines on Campaign Activities provides that City personnel are prohibited from using City paid time, equipment, facilities, and other resources for political campaign activities or purposes.
When asked about the postings, Official explained that Official has difficulty toggling between Official’s personal and city Instagram accounts. Official did not intend to post comments from the City account because Official knew that it was an improper use of City resources. Based on Official’s explanation, this appears to have been a one-time, unintentional incident, and unlikely to occur again. Official also affirmed in an interview that Official will “never do this again.”
The Commission dismissed the ethics concern and did not impose a civil fine on Official. Even though Official likely gave preferential treatment to Candidate and misused city resources by commenting favorably and “liking” Candidate’s campaign Instagram account from a city agency account, the conduct was a one-time, unintended mistake and immediately corrected. ….
read … Advisory Opinion 2019-2