Ontario city councilor calls for public action against Facebook post related to tax

ONTARIO – Ontario City Councilor Marty Justus last week urged people to press a local business manager to delete a post from her personal Facebook page, one that linked to a published article about actions by a friend of his.

The move came after the Malheur Enterprise last week reported that a longtime civic leader, Charlotte Fugate, had torn down a political sign inside a local business. Fugate supports a proposed Ontario sales tax, and took down a sign opposing the tax.

Kim Lopez of Treasure Valley Steel said she posted the story to her personal Facebook page. She is married to Dan Lopez, one of the petitioners who referred the city sales tax to voters.

Justus, a city councilor since 2015, defended Fugate in a post to his own Facebook page early Saturday.

“I am not telling you that what she did was right,” he wrote. “I am just asking that you not judge her on 30 seconds of emotion.”

He then added, “Join me in asking Kim Lopez take down that post!” He also put up the hashtag “kimlopeztakedownthatpost.” Hashtags are social media devices that flag messages or content on a specific topic.

Kim Lopez said that surprised her.

“I was so confused by it because not only had I shared it but other people shared it,” Lopez said. “It is an article written by a newspaper.”

Lopez said she wouldn’t remove the post.

“I kind of take that stuff personal,” she said. “I do feel he attacked me personally over something I really don’t have control over.”

Justus said he acted in his personal capacity, not as a public official.

“It was Marty Justus’s private page, Marty Justus as a private citizen,” said Justus.

His Facebook page is publicly accessible. Justus said he was concerned that posting the newspaper report was “fanning the flames.”

Regarding Lopez’s post, “I am not telling her to, I am asking her” to remove it, he said.

The use of social media by government employees and elected officials has drawn increased scrutiny in recent years. Cities can face legal liability for statements made in an official capacity, or if they aren’t clearly flagged as personal and not official opinions. Some employees have been disciplined or fired for statements on social media that violated conduct policies, such as when employees shared racist memes or sent harassing private messages to a coworker.

The League of Oregon Cities has urged its members to develop social media policies.

“A city’s social media policy should address the degree to which councilors and advisory board members should use social media to discuss city business,” the group wrote in 2010.

The city of Ontario has no such policy, according to City Manager Adam Brown.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.