“Mayor of the Airwaves” Receiving Taxpayer Funded Social Media

For many small-business owners, managing social media has become a necessary time-sucking chore.

Except in Indian River County where, public records show, the local sheriff’s office has been managing the social media accounts of at least one business owner.

Yep, you read right.

The agency led by outgoing Sheriff Deryl Loar has admitted in a release of records that it spent taxpayer’s money on managing four Facebook accounts of local radio personality Rhett Palmer, the self-proclaimed “Mayor of the Airwaves.”

The Facebook accounts include Palmer’s personal account, and three accounts that belong to his businesses, a magazine called Vero’s Voice, Rhett Palmer Live! “Mayor of the Airwaves”, Palmer’s daily radio show on WAXE AM 1370, and The Florida Show.

The highly unusual arrangement was recently exposed through requests for receipts for the in-service credit card of Major Eric Flowers, whom Loar has tapped as his heir apparent.

Flowers happens to be considered a front-runner in the race for sheriff that also includes Indian River Shores Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell, Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry and former Indian River County Sheriff’s Captain Chuck Kirby.

The Flowers records show the agency’s credit card was charged $348 on September 29 for a yearly subscription to Hootsuite, a digital system that allows a user to control a series of social media accounts from one platform.

According to the sheriff’s records, Flowers is now able to post in the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts of the sheriff’s office, Deryl Loar’s personal Twitter account and the local emergency services management’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

By all standards, managing those accounts is a part of Flower’s job since he happens to be the agency’s public information officer.

The presence of four private Rhett Palmer accounts on the HootSuite system paid for by the sheriff’s office, however, is strange.

“This is puzzling,” said Sheriff’s office candidate Rich Rosell,” and unprecedented.

“Public information officers anywhere in government should never have control of what the media publishes or doesn’t publish.”

Why is the Indian River Sheriff’s Office managing Rhett Palmer’s social media? Would the law enforcement agency manage the social media for any business that would ask?

Good questions and neither the sheriff nor Public Information Officer Flowers responded to emails asking for answers.

In addition to being unsavory, the arrangement has also exposed the relationship ripe with conflicts of interest between Palmer and Flower’s campaign for sheriff.

According to county elections records, Palmer’s magazine was paid $1,000 by the Flowers campaign on September 27, two days after Flowers started managing Palmer’s social media.

Why?

Palmer’s not saying after we asked through emails.

However, in a Facebook posting, Palmer showed he has no clue on how his cozy arrangement with the sheriff’s office, courtesy of the taxpayers, is starting to make Indian River County look like the type of incestuous place you’d expect to find, say, in Mississippi or Louisiana.

Palmer – or was it Flowers? – wrote on Facebook that the arrangement pre-dated the HootSuite purchase and included postings about hurricanes.

“During the hurricane, they (the sheriff’s office) put updates with my permission. Nothing wrong is going on here to the best of my knowledge,” the posting reads.

In the same social media note, Palmer actually admitted to paying for an hour of airtime per week on WAXE so that Flowers and the sheriff’s office can reach thousands of listeners with interviews and pro-sheriff content.

“I pay for tens of thousands of dollars for airtime every year so that the sheriff’s office can have a show FREE,” the author claimed. Really?

There’s another deal we’ll look into.

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