I am dismayed that some people in Kalispell’s city government apparently have a broken understanding of the right of free speech and of Montana’s open meeting laws. Let us turn this around, we need to celebrate free speech and government transparency, not twist and abuse it. At a recent meeting, some suggested that city council members refrain from engaging with their constituents on social media. Some suggested council members who talk about city functions on Facebook or Twitter risk breaking open meetings law. Rubbish, our open meetings law is a spotlight, not a muzzle. First, let us recognize that social media debates are messy. We all have the responsibility not to spread misinformation, but it is ridiculous to say that city council members somehow have fewer rights of expression than anyone else, especially on public issues. They are elected officials, no different from Sen. Jon Tester or Sen. Steve Daines. The senators have staff who do nothing but post on social media. Where would this censorship end? If it is not OK to post on social media, is it not OK to write a letter to the editor, give an interview to a journalist, give a speech at Depot Park or meet with constituents over coffee at Syke’s. Free speech is free speech. The medium does not matter.
Montana’s Sunshine Law requires that government meetings and communications to be held in the open, with reasonable public notice. It does not prohibit people who are elected to represent their constituents from speaking to those constituents. Anyone who twists this law into a gag order should get a new job baking pretzels.
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