When Twitter turns sour

May 14, 2014

Yesterday an anonymous Twitter account that had been known only by the moniker “The Bond Girl” revealed herself to be an official with the Kentucky School Facilities Construction Commission. In other words, she is a public official. Her name is Kristi Culpepper. Bloomberg reports that she said in a phone interview from her home in Frankfort, Kentucky, “I changed my name on my account. I felt like it.” She declined further comment.

If the revelation and Culpepper’s subsequent nonchalance seem strange, it’s because the whole story is. While going by the nickname “Bond Girl” on Twitter, she was also responsible for coordinating bond issues from school districts to the municipal bond market. Her almost 24,000 Twitter posts under the name “munilass” are a mixture of analysis on bond news and barbed attacks on others.

Nashville, Tennessee City Council member and avid tweeter (under her own name) Emily Evans told me “It just isn’t a good idea for public officials – elected or appointed – to comment and criticize anonymously via social media. Anonymity tends to make people speak and write in a manner that does not serve the interests of those that elected or appointed them. And of course, the public hates secrets. One way or another they will discover you.”

A reporter for the Bond Buyer may have raised the flag about Culpepper after she had registered for a Bond Buyer conference in Boston. She said it was the same week that she mentioned a Kentucky Derby party. The sleuthing was not difficult, but it was something that she considers now to be an inconvenience because she has to use her name to tweet. Culpepper had to come clean.

Culpepper was unavailable when I called her office for an interview. Pamela Trautner, Director of Communications for the Public Information Office of the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet, told me that employees are briefed on the state’s social media policy and that Kentucky officials “are reviewing things” in relation to Culpepper. It’s likely that it is the first time that anything like this has happened in this particular administration office. Now they must address the much larger question of how to tame rogue gorilla communicators.

This is a funny issue for muniland. Public officials are supposed to be transparent; but on the other hand, muniland is a dark place. The Bond Girl has used anonymity to attack many who watch over muniland – myself included. She also spoke recklessly in codes that can be identified as pointing at career rivals. Culpepper tweeted more than a month ago that someone had retired and she could “finally reallocate all the money I was saving for a hit man,” according to Bloomberg.

Dark humor, to be sure. But it also comes with a heaping measure of irresponsibility. When the Bond Buyer made the connection, it was only surprising perhaps that it took so long for someone to try.

Kentucky’s social media policy requires state employees to use their real names in communications and prohibits among other things disparaging or threatening comments about or related to anyone. Employees are to refrain from commenting on things involved in litigation, which Culpepper did in an FT Alphaville piece on Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Twitter is an open forum for users to share information and opinions. I hope more public officials are willing to add their knowledge and views to the stream. But I have the feeling that games that people like Culpepper play may ruin it for everyone. It would be a big loss in more ways than one.

Correction: A previous version of this post said that Oliver Renick, a reporter for The Bond Buyer, outed Culpepper after discovering her identity. Renick says he had nothing to do with outing “munilass.”

One comment

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Cate, no offense but you are a terrible reporter and it sounds like incredibly unprofessional sour grapes from someone who called you out on your sub-par journalism. Why is this even an article other than you gloating over someone else’s misery? Anyone who follows muniland will now see you as unprofessional for having written that. Good luck finding sources to explain complicated terminology like “bonds” or “interest” to you in this business.

Posted by RussianBear | Report as abusive