The East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission is cracking down on what its employees say on social media pages where they represent BREC.
A new social media policy the BREC board of commissioners approved Thursday will ask employees to sign off on understanding that “I can be held liable for anything I write, post or present online.” The policy says those who break it can be subject to discipline or even immediate termination.
BREC Communications Director Cheryl Michelet told the board when asking it to approve the policy that it had not been updated in several years. The new policy outlines rules for people using both personal social media pages and accounts of behalf of BREC.
“If you chose to publicly identify yourself as a BREC employee, it is with the understanding that some may view you as a spokesperson for BREC,” the new policy says. “BREC encourages the inclusion of a statement informing viewers that the opinions expressed are not those of BREC or any related entity.”
Among the guidelines: Employees should not publicly discuss co-workers or confidential work-related issues; employees contacted by the media about BREC-related social media posts should inform the communications department; people running BREC social media accounts should only “like” or follow other accounts “that are in the interest of BREC.”
The rules encourage employees to report violations to supervisors or human resources. They also remind employees that all social media comments and posts are subject to state public records laws.
“This one is governing the use of social media to make sure that BREC is protected,” Michelet said.
Social media policies from local public agencies have been controversial as officials try to navigate how to maintain a good image for their organizations without stomping on First Amendment rights. A Rapides Parish teacher sued her school after alleging her principal told her to no longer post personal opinions on social media, while an East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy was fired after posting a disparaging comment about a McDonald’s on his Facebook page.
The commissioners also voted Wednesday to hold a public hearing next month in hopes of rolling forward property taxes to help the agency scoop up nearly $2 million more annually.
BREC is facing two major property tax changes in the coming months. It has set an election in the fall seeking renewal of one of its existing property taxes, and it is looking to roll forward all of its property taxes while property values are reassessed this year.
The agency has one of the largest dedicated property taxes within the city-parish at 14.463 mills. Property tax levels are rolled back over time so homeowners do not continue to pay more money for a tax while their property values increase.
But for the past two years, BREC has asked to roll forward property taxes instead, which results in more money for the agency and higher tax bills for property owners. The BREC board voted last year to reset its property tax level from 14.218 mills back to the voter-approved 14.463 mills, costing residents with $200,000 homes an extra $3 a year.
On Wednesday, the BREC commissioners voted to hold a public hearing in July to roll forward the 14.463-mill tax a second time. BREC finance officials said the agency would lose $30,000 if it does not roll forward but would gain $1.96 million if it does.
Nearly three-fourths of BREC’s overall budget comes from property taxes, which are expected to bring in $55 million of the agency’s $75 million budget this year.
“It helps us to handle many of the new things we’re bringing online,” said Superintendent Carolyn McKnight of why she wants the tax rolled forward. She said upcoming installations of air conditioning at BREC gyms and new splash pads at parks have led to increasing water bills and electricity bills for the agency.
The public hearing will be at 5:15 p.m. July 28 at the BREC headquarters on Florida Boulevard.