Social media a trap for trustees

Many officials in this area – and elsewhere – believe that the best government for representation is in the local circles. By going to a school, village, town board or Common Council meeting, residents can voice their opinion or concern on issues regarding their hometown.

But for some residents, local government also can seem to be the most vengeful because of that connection.

On May 14 last year, a resident and taxpayer voiced his concerns regarding the conduct of the Fredonia code enforcement officer during a Village Board meeting. His thanks for going public with that opinion? A citation – from the code enforcement office – dated May 15, 2012.

Deserved? Possibly. Vengeful? Without a doubt.

Last month, a Facebook posting could have possibly put an area official in hot water. In the posting, the trustee noted a resident had not paid a water bill. The conversation continued over a couple of days on Facebook.

On Thursday, I spoke with the trustee who was apologetic about the post – and did not realize the ramification of the posting. From the Facebook comments, those who could view the discussion could infer that the person is using their power as a trustee to gather information to use against a resident in the municipality.

“I was angry,” the trustee said, noting the Facebook conversation had turned personal as emotions got in the way.

As many residents – and this trustee – have learned, while Facebook is a great tool for communicating, it is filled with hazards and consequences. Local elected officials, even when on Facebook or any social media outlet, are still elected and in the public’s eye.

Those officials also have access to public information on the residents they serve at their convenience. Any trustee posting on social media that someone has not paid a bill appears to be using their position for some sort of gain.

Trustees are in no way immune from privacy on Facebook or any other social network. Being a member of that network is their choice, one that makes their posts public record, just like their votes at the meetings they attend.

I spoke with a number of clerks in the area regarding how a trustee would find out if a resident of their municipality was late or had not paid a bill. According to most of those asked, clerks do not reveal the information on a regular basis. Others said they would give the trustee the information only if it was requested.

Almost all clerks agreed that board members become aware of an unpaid bill when the taxes are due. Those unpaid bills become public record and are then added to the taxes.

Only Forestville deputy clerk Samantha Kozlowski seemed bothered by the questions, noting she informs village trustees of late-bill payers because “it’s their job to know.”

Kozlowski then went on a rant about the OBSERVER and yours truly. “Everyone in this village calls you the Disturber,” she said, telling me in particular if I thought I could do a better job of running the village of Forestville, I should give it a shot.

No thank you.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to or call 366-3000, ext. 401.