KANKAKEE — The Kankakee city administration has banned people, including some of its fiercest critics, from its Facebook pages.
This week, the city released its Facebook “banned” lists to resident Pat Wilder. In August, both Wilder and the Daily Journal sought the lists of blocked Facebook users. The city responded it did not have the information, though such lists are available to all Facebook page administrators.
The city provided the information only after Wilder appealed the issue to the attorney general.
The Facebook pages included the one for Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong. In August, the city said it was a campaign page, so the information on “banned” users was not public information. However, the information released this week included the mayor’s page, which has since been changed to “Chasity Wells-Armstrong, Change Agent,” presumably an effort to make the page non-public.
In an email Wednesday, the mayor said the city’s lawyers are reviewing the city’s social media policies and that changes would be made based on recent court cases and information learned during an Illinois Municipal League conference. She said no city employee has ever been the administrator of her Facebook page.
“Social media policy is evolving, and if the city team is made aware that policy indicates we should be doing something differently, we will correct our course of action,” the mayor said.
Wells-Armstrong, a Democrat, has blocked 20 accounts from her page, including those of critics such as Wilder and Adam Phillips, former Republican Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jamie Boyd and a Daily Journal reporter. This means they cannot see what is happening on the page, including alerts with important city information.
With Wells-Armstrong as one of the administrators, the main city page banned seven Facebook users, including Wilder and Phillips. One of the seven was blocked in 2015, two years before Wells-Armstrong became mayor.
The police department listed three users as blocked. The fire department blocked no one, the city said.
In its response to Wilder, the city said its lists were of blocked users as of Aug. 7, the day of his request. The city said the bans have since been lifted, with the exception of the mayor’s, which is now considered a campaign page.
Wilder’s request for the Facebook information was at least the fourth time in a year in which the city provided the public information only after an appeal to the attorney general. The other three involved Daily Journal requests.
In an interview, Wilder said he didn’t believe the lists were complete.
“These are inaccurate numbers,” he said. “There were a lot more people blocked on these pages.”
Wilder said the city should establish some criteria for banning Facebook users.
“There needs to be a policy on why you are blocked — if you make racist comments, if you swear, if you are belligerent. There are legitimate reasons to be blocked, but there needs to be a procedure in place. There should be a hearing like there is for a code violation. There is no due process here,” Wilder said. “They should not be able to arbitrarily block you without some criteria.”
At least one of the banned users was confused about why she was targeted.
“What did I do?” Kankakee resident Melanie Williams said in response to a Facebook post with the list of names.
The city of Kankakee has been known to block some people from seeing its main city and police department Facebook pages.
Wilder filed a complaint with the attorney general in August saying the city should provide the Facebook records in question.
In an Aug. 27 response, the attorney general’s office said further action on Wilder’s complaint was warranted, meaning the office would investigate. The office gave the city a week to send a response, but the office said it has yet to receive one.
The attorney general asked whether city employees or elected officials post to the city Facebook pages and whether the city actually has the blocked lists in its possession.
The attorney general gave the city seven days to provide a written response. The city never submitted one.
Once Wilder called attention to the blocked lists in August, the Kankakee Police Department started unblocking people from its page. Wilder wrote the page’s administrator in a private message: “I see KPD is unblocking and unmuting everyone that (police officials) had been blocking from the page.”
The administrator said Wilder was correct.
On Monday, the Daily Journal spoke with the attorney general’s office attorney dealing with Wilder’s complaint and sent an email about the issue to the mayor and city lawyers. A few hours later, Wilder received the records he had been seeking for two months.
Wells-Armstrong has said before the city takes its cues from suburban law firm Odelson & Sterk on its responses to public works requests.
In Wednesday’s email, the mayor said the city receives “an abundance” of records requests and that it takes time to determine what the city can release, which is in addition to employees’ daily tasks. She also explained how she has run her Facebook page.
“Initially, I viewed my campaign page as one in which I could manage access and did not allow such access on my personal pages for a number of reasons, including those who put out false information, use profanity, make offensive remarks and so on,” Wells-Armstrong said. “There are enough pages serving that purpose. The intent of my campaign page was to connect with my friends, family and the residents in the city, share information, bring awareness to issues, and document the work I am doing. Those are the attributes healthy people seek: connection, education, awareness and voters want to see what an elected official has done in the community, as opposed to only seeing the official when she is a candidate.”
The city apparently takes criticism on Facebook seriously. Last year, the Daily Journal obtained documents showing that then-Police Chief Price Dumas used a state criminal database to investigate two of the mayor’s critics on Facebook. The database is supposed to be used for legitimate law enforcement purposes.
According to state police documents, officers reported Deputy Chief Willie Hunt had asked an officer to investigate a Facebook account that was posting criticism of the Kankakee city administration. Hunt allegedly asked the officer to install trackers on the account who it belonged to. The officer followed the order, the documents state.