Four years ago, Kansas City Council members imposed restrictions on themselves to guard against the use of tax dollars or city resources when campaigning before an election.
They prohibited the mayor and council from using public money or their city offices to issue newsletters or other communications with their pictures 90 days before a general city election.
But now, the prevalence of social media and other nontraditional constituent communication tools have rendered those earlier restrictions an “anachronism,” according to the city attorney’s office.
So Councilman Ed Ford, who pushed for the earlier restrictions, wants to repeal his earlier ordinance and replace it with an approach that acknowledges the new political environment.
“Social media has exploded,” Ford told the council’s Finance, Governance and Ethics Committee on Wednesday, noting that some council members and the mayor have communicated with constituents that way for years, and it doesn’t make sense to require them to shut down their social media channels.
Mayor Sly James and other council members frequently use Twitter to send news updates with their picture. They have websites and send email blasts to neighborhood groups with newsletters that may include a photograph. They’re on Facebook and use a variety of other communication methods.
Ford said City Attorney Bill Geary became concerned that the existing city law would prohibit all those approaches during election season and talked to him about updating the rules. The timing is appropriate because the filing period to run for City Council began Tuesday and ends Jan. 13. The City Council primary election is in April and the general election is in June.
The committee endorsed the changes, and the new ordinance comes up for a vote Thursday before the full City Council.
But if adopted, it doesn’t mean open season to use city tax dollars or council offices to campaign for re-election.
Ford said the Missouri Constitution prohibits the use of public resources for election promotions, so those safeguards are still in place. Council members running for office would be prohibited during election season from using city resources to distribute special messages that are not a regular communication that they have already been using for six months.