MURFREESBORO, TN – City officials determined Wednesday that a veteran firefighter did not violate city policy when he berated a beggar on his Facebook page while off duty this weekend.
Gregory Burt posted a photo and criticism of Vanessa Ighodaro on his Facebook page Saturday in reference to her begging activities at the intersection of Broad Street and Medical Center Parkway. Burt, who has been a firefighter since May 1998 and makes an annual salary of $46,800, does not identify himself as a firefighter for the city on the site.
Ighodaro lives in the Jackson Motel with her family.
“So the sign says homeless, but she lives in the hotel behind her,” Burt wrote in a Facebook posting Saturday, which was later removed. “She checks in at 300+ lbs (I know, because we transported it). She gets food stamps and healthcare. Wondering what your Tn care and Medicare/Medicaid is being used for! Tired of supporting it and others like it! Disgusting!”
City Manager Rob Lyons said there had been no violation of the city’s social media policy by the firefighter.
“We’ve tried to strike a balance between a city employee’s First Amendment rights” while on duty versus off duty, he said.
The city’s current social media policy disallows employees from posting comments while acting on behalf of the city without approval from city officials and department heads. Section 2.7.4, which applies only to city social media sites, disallows content to be posted that is discriminatory “on the basis of … status with regard to public assistance … or other legally protected category.”
Section 3.6 of the policy disallows employees from posting content on “non-city social media sites” that discloses “any non-public information.”
City officials also explained that they decided not to punish Burt over the comment after they reviewed “two months” worth of call records, and determined he had never had contact with Ighodaro “during the course of his work for the city,” said Ashley McDonald, MFRD spokeswoman, via a news release.