Early Monday (Dec. 3) evening, Fort Smith resident Liz Berry Armstrong posted on the Fort Smith Residents Forum on Facebook: “Looks like Fort Smith Communication’s Director needs a good dose of Fort Smith hospitality. Let’s all give her a warm welcome while she acclimates to all of the hillbillies within us. Gentlemen please remember to not be sexist……how many times do we have to tell you. (Insert sarcasm)”
She then shared a post Karen Santos, Fort Smith’s communications manager, posted on her personal page Monday afternoon, which stated “The day I’ve dreaded is here. I have to go buy a new car. Alone. In one of the most sexist cities in America. Still an Old West Border Town.
“I may need a shot of whiskey & some of Granny Hobbs’ snuff to steel myself for this.”
Armstrong later deleted the post from the residents forum page, but posted the original post and the exchange it generated on her personal page along with the post, “Hrhmmm! Seems like the City of Fort Smith Communications Manager needs a hug. Seriously!?. If you think that Fort Smith is one of the sexist cities in America, why would you choose to work for the city.”
The exchange Armstrong included with her post was between Santos and Armstrong’s messenger account, which showed Santos offering to provide a citation and studies to back her statement. Santos also stated that Armstrong’s actions — posting Santos’ post from her personal page to the resident’s forum page and then commenting on it — were a violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service and Community Standards. There were several back and forth comments between the two. Several times, Armstrong told Santos to stop contacting her. The exchange ended with Santos writing, “You’ll be hearing from my attorney. There are Civil Penalties for reckless cyber bullying.”
Though Armstrong did not post whether Santos provided surveys or citations for her statement, a Washington Post article from August states that according to an index of sexist attitudes developed by economists at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and National University Singapore, Arkansas was the most sexist state in the nation.
Armstrong’s post garnered many comments about positive car buying experiences in Fort Smith, many of which were completed with the help of female sales associates at several different dealerships in Fort Smith.
“While it saddens me personally to hear that our own city communications director holds this view of our city & the automotive industry as a whole, we do face (and embrace) the challenge of overcoming the long-held stereotypes in regards to the automotive industry. We love Fort Smith, and we do not accept the statement that Fort Smith is one of the ‘most sexist cities in America.’ It is right here in Fort Smith, AR, that the only dealer in Arkansas with a long-held Women’s Choice Award resides. It is here in Fort Smith where you can find a locally owned dealership that is run by a woman, our GM Renee Durham,” said Cathy Nesbit, social media director at Harry Robinson Buick GMC when asked about the Facebook posts.
“If our city communications director or any woman feeling uncomfortable with the car buying process would give us the opportunity to earn her business, we invite them to Harry Robinson Buick GMC. If she so chooses, women can work with a female BDC staffer to help with pricing and walk her thru the process, then pick a female sales consultant, and do paperwork with our female finance manager. Following up the purchase every customer hears from our female customer experience manager. Our service manager is a woman too, so that should dispel some stigma in regards to females being taken advantage of in the service and maintenance side of automotive,” Nesbit continued.
“Technically, if she wanted, a woman in Fort Smith can come to Harry Robinson Buick GMC and never deal personally with a male staffer. With that said, every male staffer here would be just as competent and invested in helping any woman wanting to purchase a vehicle. We do not define our processes by how we can take advantage of anyone, no matter their gender. Instead, we focus our operations on how we can best help our customer purchase a vehicle that meets their personal needs and that they are happy with. As further evidence of our love for Fort Smith & the River Valley, we are always reinvesting in our community by giving back locally.”
Fort Smith City Director George Catsavis commented on Armstrong’s post that Santos should have stopped contacting her as soon as Armstrong made the request that she do so.
“Don’t know if Carl (Geffken, Fort Smith city administrator) knows about this, but no city employee should act like this. I’m sure she has more important things to work on besides this back and fourth (stet) dialogue with you. I’m finding it hard to believe this is a communications director job to do this,” Catsavis commented on Armstrong’s post.
The Social Media Use Policy, Standards and Procedures, which is section 11 of the city’s human resources handbook, states, “The City has an overriding interest and expectation in deciding what is ‘spoken’ on behalf of the City on social media sites. This policy establishes guidelines for the use by City employees of City Social Media Sites and communications by City employees concerning work-related issues as set out in the provisions herein on ‘Personal use of Social Media by city Employees.’”
Under the Personal Use of Social Media by City Employees section, the policy states that employees “are free to express themselves as private citizens on social media sites on issues of general or public concern (as opposed to personal work-related issues) to the degree that the speech does not impair or impede the performance of any employment duties, including the speaker’s duties; disrupt the workplace or regular operations; impair discipline by superiors; cause disharmony among coworkers; impair other working relationships; show discourtesy to or demonstrate disrespect to any member of the public; interfere with the effective and efficient fulfillment of the City’s responsibilities to the public; or undermine public confidence in the posting employee, other City employees, or the City.”
The policy reminds employees that regardless of any privacy settings on various social media platforms, social media is not private. Santos’ personal Facebook page is private and does not allow for posts from those who are not friends with her.
“To the extent that an employee identifies himself/herself as a City employee on social media, or if an employee discusses matters related to the City on social media, employees must add an obvious and prominently displayed disclaimer stating that he/she does not express the views of the City and the employee is expressing only his/her personal views,” the policy states.
Santos did not say she was speaking on behalf of the city in her post.
The policy further states that if employees post information on social media that is in violation of the city’s polices and/or federal or state law or if they violate the city’s social media policy, they could face disciplinary action.
Geffken did not say if he felt Santos’ actions violated the policy.
“Although we believe in everyone’s right to express their thoughts and opinion, we sincerely apologize to our residents who were offended by the statements on social media,” Geffken said.
Santos did not respond to requests for comment from Talk Business & Politics.