September 6, 2012 11:06:31 AM
OK. Where's the "don't like" button?
During Tuesday's meeting, the Columbus City Council approved recommended 30-day suspensions of two firefighters and a police officer for "liking" a controversial Facebook post made by another Columbus firefighter, who has since resigned in the wake of the incident.
Firefighters Damon Estes and Erik Minga and police officer Lance Luckey were suspended after Mayor Robert Smith broke a 3-3 vote on accepting the suspensions recommended by Fire Chief Ken Moore and Police Chief Selvain McQueen. Councilmen Gene Taylor, Joseph Mickens and Fred Stewart voted in favor of the suspensions.
When one considers the city has no written policy regarding social media, the severity of the suspension seems excessive. While few would argue that "liking" a post that made derogatory comments about a citizen is appropriate, the punishment seems out of proportion.
This is especially true when you consider the full consequences of a 30-day suspension.
The fire department appears to be treating the suspension as a 30-calendar-day suspension. This equates to roughly two paychecks for Estes and Minga.
For Luckey it appears far more severe. According to Public Information Officer Glenda Buckhalter, the police department is treating the suspension as 30 working days. Police work 12-hours shifts. They are on duty seven days out of every 14. In Luckey's case, that 30-day suspension will be twice as long on the calendar. He'll lose nearly two month's pay.
So, for one, a thoughtless act that took mere seconds will have consequences that last for months.
Social media, although hardly new, is something of a new frontier in the legal community. Are Facebook comments and "tweets" from a person's Twitter account protected speech under the First Amendment? What if they are made at work? Can a person be fired if the comments undermine a person's employer? Those sorts of questions are only now working their way through the judicial system. It seems likely that at some point, the U.S. Supreme Court will settle the matter. It should be noted that public officials are often held to a different standard than private citizens, of course.
But it seems only fair for the officers to know what that standard is.
The city still has no written policy on social media. And without a policy, there are no guidelines on punishment.
It is likely that if any of the three men who were suspended were aware of a written policy and the penalties associated with that policy, the incident would never have happened.
In the absence of such a policy, a lesser penalty seems warranted.
That is not what these men received.
The punishment does not fit the crime.
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