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Cook County Board to clash over Twitter ban
By Ted Cox | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/28/2010 12:02 AM

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If some members of the Cook County Board have their way, a little bird soon may not be telling anyone anything - at least not in the form of Twitter posts during formal board meetings.

Chicago Democratic Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno has a proposed ordinance amendment before the Rules & Administration Committee today that would ban the use of "publicly accessible instant-messaging platforms" by commissioners, the board president and all those on the floor "during all meetings of the board." The proposed amendment specifically mentions "social-networking websites or like platforms," apparently aimed at Twitter and Facebook, Internet tools more and more politicians are making use of.

Moreno said the ban is designed to "make the board more cohesive, more respectable" and also "avoid inaccurate information going out during proceedings, particularly in executive session."

Yet, while some might see the issue as a legitimate debate, others see it as just more of the political sniping commissioners have been engaged in for years.

It first came up last November, when Riverside Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica put out a Twitter tweet chiding Chicago Democratic Commissioner Deborah Sims for her decision to flip-flop and vote against an override of President Todd Stroger's sales-tax increase. Peraica posted: "Com Debbie Sims still does not get it. She blames the press for her vote to support Stroger sales tax. Time to vote her out."

Sims subsequently attacked what she called "tweetering" for political purposes through the board's publicly funded wireless network and called for an ethics investigation, saying, "Nobody should be political tweeting in this room."

Peraica soon apologized for overstepping bounds on electioneering, but has continued to tweet during board meetings, most recently cheering a series of approved ethics reforms at the mid-September meeting.

"I think it would be appropriate to limit it to the unbiased communication of facts and not engage in electioneering as such - from the floor of the county board," Peraica clarified Monday. "I think that is appropriate. I don't intend on doing that, and I don't advocate that."

"Twitter is the wave of the future, and it allows us to distribute current and factual information about what's going on with the board," said Bartlett Republican Commissioner Timothy Schneider, the only other member of the board to regularly tweet during meetings. "When it's not abused or used for political purposes, I think it's worthwhile." Schneider said he also values the political feedback he receives in replies to his tweets.

Yet, Peraica said he had no doubt the amendment was aimed at him in particular by Moreno. The two have clashed for years, especially since Moreno lost his bid for re-election in February's Democratic primary. At a July board meeting, Peraica told Moreno to "take a chill pill," to which Moreno replied, "Not the ones you've been taking."

"I have nothing to do with Commissioner Peraica. We're in different districts," Moreno replied. "But Commissioner Peraica is the culprit. He has sent erroneous information about how people vote on Twitter, and we want to avoid that."

Peraica also raised First Amendment issues, saying, "I don't think that it passes constitutional muster, even if it were to pass. I think it would be unenforceable, and I think it would be unconstitutional. This flies in the face of our basic constitutional rights - Freedom of speech, particularly for a member of a legislative body. It's done by members of Congress, it's done by members of our legislature."

Peraica cited Chicago Democratic state Rep. John Fritchey, now a candidate for the county board, as a particularly avid Twitter user during legislative sessions.

Schneider said he expected the board to eventually endorse Twitter use during meetings, but wasn't sure whether the amendment would clear committee and be sent to the board for consideration at its next meeting Oct. 5. He, Moreno and Sims are all members of the committee, along with suburban Republicans Liz Gorman and Peter Silvestri and Democrats Larry Suffredin of Evanston and William Beavers, John Daley and Robert Steele of Chicago.

"It's a matter of a quorum and who shows up," Schneider said.

"I think it'll pass in committee and be approved by the board," Moreno countered.

In any case, it should be one of the last skirmishes in the ongoing feud between Peraica and Moreno, who will be replaced in December by the winner of the Nov. 2 general election. Peraica also is up for re-election.

At the July meeting, Peraica teased Moreno about his lame-duck status, saying, "I'll be glad when you're not here."

"That'll be both of us," Moreno replied.