By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray asked for "more grace and empathy" in future policy debates in a post he made to social media.
The Grand Island Town Board responded to those who complained at the Aug. 15 Town Board meeting about his posts on social media.
The issue has come to a boil in the debate on the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation proposed alternative to close the West River Parkway to car traffic. The redesign would turn the 8-mile stretch of road into the West River Connector Trail, a multi-modal transportation park.
At Monday's workshop meeting in Town Hall, Councilman Mike Madigan cautioned the board about posting on social media.
"I think we need to be careful what we post out on the internet," Madigan said, offering an example of someone, whom he didn't identify, who suggested supporters of the parkway closure should post addresses and names of opponents.
Madigan said the effort is "to get other people to then persuade them not to continue to oppose that particular person's position."
"I think that's probably breaking lines that shouldn't be crossed, and I think we need to be very careful how we post and use Facebook," Madigan said.
Councilman Ray Billica said he considers the town's Facebook page "an informational page," which would tell residents what is going on in town, such as if water is being shut off, when meetings take place, etc.
"It's just all fact based, no opinions, no nothing," Billica said.
Councilwoman Bev Kinney concurred and wanted "considerate, responsible" dialogue online.
McMurray was the focus of the complaints by the public at the Aug. 15 board meeting, a meeting that he missed because he was away on vacation. This week, he posted on social media again to ramp down the dialogue.
"More than I could have ever expected, this Facebook page has become a place for discussion, communication, and expression regarding all things Grand Island," McMurray said. "I encourage the public to share their thoughts relating to any topic addressed in or on any of my posts.
"Despite my enthusiastic support of free speech, a handful of people have claimed that I censor speech on this page. I point to the many comments from folks who have disagreed with me over the last year as evidence that I try and keep the debate as open as possible. I have, however, blocked a few people (two to be precise) and deleted their comments. I did this after providing ample warnings for behavior I felt inappropriate."
McMurray said he reserves the right to delete or disallow comments that he considers vulgar, racist, or abusive language; personal or obscene attacks; offensive terms targeting individuals or groups; threats or defamatory statements; links to any site; suggestions or encouragement of illegal activity; multiple successive off-topic posts by a single user or repetitive posts by a user (i.e., trolling or spam) containing the same or similar content; or unsolicited business or promotional materials.
McMurray said his Facebook page was his alone and not the Town Board's.
"You may read something I write that you disagree with. And if you post something that I disagree with, I may tell you so," McMurray wrote.
"Further, I will not (and have not) engaged in any behavior that for anyone falling within the normal spectrum of human sensitivities would consider objectively insulting. To this point, I do not believe saying, 'I disagree' or advocating for a particular position is in an of itself insulting. Further, I believe willingness to speak with the public openly is what has fueled this very American series of debates and discussions, which continue to make Grand Island a better place."
McMurray listed five rules for civil posting. "I'm no saint, but the goal is civil debate that mutually edifies. We are neighbors and friends. There is no need for conspiracy theories or personal attacks. Let's do better," he wrote.
His rules were:
"1. Do not post something you do not want the world to read;
"2. Along with this, do not post something you would be unwilling to say to someone in person, which often means avoiding posting in anger;
"3. Be cautious when speaking to someone you may not know outside of the Facebook world, especially if you are a young person;
"4. Talk more about ideas and less about people; and finally
"5. If you are concerned about your privacy, do not post - this is a public page."
WRHOA members vote to oppose parkway closure
The West River Homeowners Association held a meeting Monday, Aug. 22, in the family room of Trinity United Methodist Church and voted overwhelmingly to oppose the State Parks' preferred alternative plan to close the West River Parkway to traffic and convert it into a multi-modal path.
According to the WRHOA, approximately 150 members attended the meeting.
In a press release issued by the WRHOA Thursday, the association voted 127-4 in favor of keeping the West River Parkway open to vehicle traffic, versus closing the parkway and using it as a proposed bike path.