The last Rapid City Legal and Finance Committee meeting of the year Wednesday was a 90-minute deluge of questions and concerns — mostly centered around banning TikTok and a hefty funding request from the Youth Council.
Ward 3 representative Jason Salamun put a request for the City Attorney's office to develop a resolution to ban TikTok on city-owned devices for the Dec. 14 Legal and Finance Committee agenda. However, it was pushed to the Dec. 19 council meeting due to Winter Storm Diaz. The council voted 9-to-1 — with Salamun opposed — to move the item back to this week’s committee meeting for further discussion.
The agenda item is just to direct the City Attorney’s office to draft a resolution that would ban TikTok from city devices and networks, and prevent city departments from operating accounts.
“This is simply us following the lead from the federal government and our state government and prohibiting TikTok on government devices, as well as networks and accounts,” Salamun said Wednesday. “This does not have anything to do with our employees misusing TikTok. This is a preventative action, specifically about this one (app), who owns it, and where they’re based out of.”
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Ward 3 Council member Ritchie Nordstrom said he’s worried that only looking at a TikTok ban would turn into "Whac-A-Mole," despite there being other considerations to be made regarding social media. Ward 1 Council member Pat Jones asked if the city would lose transparency from banning the app, but agreed that it wasn’t likely that it’s used heavily enough to make a difference.
City Information Technology Director Jim Gilbert clarified that the Rapid City Fire Department uses TikTok for information and recruiting, Solid Waste uses it for education, and The Monument for marketing. Gilbert said identifying a loss in transparency would be difficult, but that the city should also consider the demographic shift between social media apps.
“Social media does tend to follow the demographic lines in terms of age, so I’m always cautious of cybersecurity from a platform of outright denial," he said. "I don’t disagree with this passing, but I would look to this as a policy that’s integrated into our cybersecurity policy — which would include things like exemptions.”
The most impassioned discussion was between Ward 5 Council member Laura Armstrong and Salamun. Armstrong recently announced her candidacy for mayor; Salamun told the Journal on Wednesday that he’s considering running but has yet to make a decision.
Armstrong told the committee that a resolution banning TikTok was “like a Chicken Little sky-is-falling,” and that they should follow cybersecurity leaders like Dakota State University, who are not enacting similar measures.
“The city is using this for civic engagement and to enhance communication, which I unfortunately feel we are lacking,” she said. “Anytime we can communicate — especially with the youth that use this — I think it’s a good thing. I don’t think our role as council members is to micromanage.”
The committee voted 3-2 in favor, with Nordstrom and Armstrong dissenting. The TikTok question will move to the full city council meeting on Tuesday.
Additionally, the committee voted unanimously to approve up to $13,500 in funding to send eight Youth City Council members to attend the National League of Cities Conference in Washington, D.C. for a second year.
“What we would like to do is to get as many young people as possible to be inspired,” said mentor Kristin Kiner. “When they come back to our community, they can share out and engage in ways that will inspire others to also serve.”
Stevens High School senior Megan Stagner serves on the council and attended the conference last year. She explained to the committee that they were able to learn more about homelessness, water infrastructure, affordable housing and drug addiction.
“These are all things that exist in this city, but being able to experience them firsthand and talk to people that do experience them is just an eye-opening experience for South Dakota kids.”
Salamun was in support of the program but requested the authorization be that the city match funding with Pennington County. The Pennington County Commission is set to approve that funding at its Tuesday meeting.
Contact Darsha Dodge at firstname.lastname@example.org