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Who Owns an Elected City Official's Social-Media Pages?

Albus Brooks argues he owns @AlbusBrooksD9, not the city.
Albus Brooks argues he owns @AlbusBrooksD9, not the city.
denvergov.org

At first glance, it seemed like an invitation to a birthday party.

"So.... I just decided for my 39th Birthday I'm inviting a couple hundred of my closest friends #Denverites to have a #SilentDisco Party who's in?"

But the tweet, an invitation to Albus Brooks's birthday party/campaign fundraiser sent from his official Twitter page, is now the subject of a complaint filed with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office alleging that the Denver City Council president used city resources to promote his re-election campaign. Brooks will defend his District 9 seat in 2019.

Strengthening Democracy Colorado, a nonprofit that holds elected officials accountable to state law, argues in its complaint that on February 9, Brooks "directed city staff, specifically city council staff aide Emily Lapel, to create a Facebook Event entitled 'Councilman Albus Brooks 39th Birthday Bash & Campaign Event,'" which he later promoted on his Twitter page.

City staff retweeted Brooks from the City and County of Denver's Twitter page with the note "Count us in!" — a since-deleted response that became embedded in the Denver City Council District 9's Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Not only did Brooks use city staff to craft and promote a campaign event, Strengthening Democracy Colorado argues, but the city promoted the event, which violates a rule that prohibits Denver officials from "engaging in political activities during working hours or using city facilities and/or resources in connection with campaigns or other political activities.

"City resources," the complaint continues, "include official social media accounts of the city and its website."

Jenny Schiavone, chief marketing officer for the City of Denver, chalks up the retweet to a mistake.

"Last week, or thereabouts, one of my staff retweeted a post from Councilman Brooks’s page that looked like a birthday/community event. It then came to our attention that the event was actually a fundraiser and we immediately deleted the post upon that realization," Schiavone writes in an email. "This is the first time, to my knowledge, that we’ve made a misstep like that, and it is not normal course of business for us.

"I’ve been onboarding new team members and the mistake was made by someone new to the city," she continues. "I’ve course corrected with my team and am ensuring we don’t make that mistake again in the future."

Responding to the complaint, Brooks argues that his social-media account is not, in fact, something that the City of Denver controls.

"Elected officials social media accounts are not considered city resources," Brooks says in a statement he sent to Westword. "We use our accounts to discuss city issues, support candidates and promote our events. If our staff promotes events campaign related they do so on private time or take PTO (Personal Time Off).”

This isn't the first time that Brooks's social media activity has landed him in hot water.

In September 2016, Brooks deleted a number of tweets from his account after Project VOYCE alleged he was trying to court the Five Points nonprofit's favor with a $1,000 donation he advertised on Twitter. "The financial contribution took place back in August 2015, when Project VOYCE was among a few recipients awarded donations from Engage 8 (now called Engage Denver), an organization that Brooks founded," Candi CdeBaca told Westword's Chris Walker that October. But after accepting the donation, she realized that her organization's interests and those of Brooks did not align.

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When CdeBaca saw a Twitter exchange between Brooks and a critic, in which Brooks implied he had done positive work in Five Points, CdeBaca weighed in: "The 5 Points that has been taken over? Kinda funny you located there and still can't understand what you've done."

To which Brooks replied: "...Candi, you weren't saying all this when I was supporting Project Voyce financially :)"

“I think what prompted him to [delete them] is that he realized, ‘Oh, shit, I just made it very clear that a donation should mean influence, and I was also picking on an organization that supports youth,’" CdeBaca said at the time.

The secretary of state has forwarded Strengthening Democracy Colorado's complaint to the Administrative Office of the Courts, which falls under the state's Department of Personnel and Administration. An administrative judge will decide the case, says Secretary of State Communications Director Lynn Bartels.

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