Tuesday, April 07, 2015
The Rockland County Legislature's chairman is questioning whether James Foley's role as administrator of the "Block the Block Vote" Facebook page comes into conflict with his job as a social worker for the county's Mental Health Department.
Foley, whose page primarily advocates against what it says is "undue political influence" by the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities, told The Journal News he's been a social worker for the county for more than 17 years.
Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe, D-Suffern, said Monday he has concerns over whether the strong point of view displayed on Foley's Facebook page could affect his job.
"It's clear from the content of the page that he has some measure of hostility toward the Orthodox community in Rockland County," Wolfe said. "I question whether he's able to provide objective service to members of this community who he might encounter in his daily work."
Wolfe added that he was also concerned whether Foley has been engaged in the social media activities during work hours.
Foley's Facebook page, which had 9,546 "likes" as of Monday, became embroiled in controversy when the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council posted a video, "The Jew in Rockland," on YouTube, taking particular aim at the page. The video compared rising anti-Semitism in the county with that in Nazi Germany, citing derogatory comments against Orthodox and Hasidic Jews found on the Facebook page.
The video, which had 25,317 views as of Monday afternoon, angered Holocaust survivors and their relatives who thought the video's use of Holocaust imagery was disrespectful to those who were killed in the genocide.
Since the video went viral, Foley has updated his page to emphasize that it's a "political effort" against "bloc voting."
As a county employee, Foley said, he has been careful not to appear that he is representing the county in any way, noting that his Facebook activities are limited to his private time, using his own devices.
"I do it on my own time. I have a friend who posts for me," Foley said, adding that he also uses a scheduling function on Facebook to manage advance posts.
"When I signed up for this job, I didn't give up any of my rights to democracy. I didn't give up my free speech. I didn't give up my rights to participate," Foley said. "I don't feel I have less rights than anybody else in terms of opening my mouth."
At work, he doesn't talk about his Facebook page, he added.
"I help people. I'm a social worker. I'm a therapist. I help people who come out of prison. I help people to stay out of trouble. I help people who nobody wants to talk to," he said.
Wolfe said he expects County Executive Ed Day to take appropriate steps to make sure county employees are performing their duties properly.
But civil service law prohibits the county from limiting its employees' speech outside of working hours unless it "substantially interferes with the operation of government or delivery of services," said Scott Salotto, Day's spokesman.
"That hasn't been determined in this case here," Salotto said. "If somebody is doing this during work hours, that's problematic. If it's done outside of the work hours, ... you can maintain blogs, or you can maintain Facebook pages related to your hobbies or political affiliation. ... It has nothing to do with your government position."
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