Encouraging Communication

On Saturday, The Express Times published an article about the City of Bethlehem working on a new social media policy. In it, three private citizens who are active on social media, and that I hold in very high regard, were quoted. The article itself sparked conversation on Twitter that came in spurts over the course of two days, and while overall I think it was productive, I think it could have gone better.

As far as my own actions in the twitter discourse that took place are concerned, I can see that I was too wrapped up in the difference of opinions and should have crafted more tactful responses. I have a lot of respect for the people I was arguing with, and while I still don’t think we agree on how to help the city move forward, we all believe in the same reason why. We’re all on the same team and I hope we can work together, with our different methods and expertise, to help everyone come out ahead.

The overall mood of those who were talking seemed to be that people were frustrated by what’s been perceived as a regression in the level of communication from city hall and what seems to be a lack of interest in changing that in the near future. This winter’s snow and the city’s efforts to remove it has put that communication shortfall in the spotlight. To its credit, the administration has stated that they are working on an official social media policy, and they have reached out to private citizens for input. They’re also working on updating the far-outdated website to make it easier to find important information in a timely manner. They may be new to the game, and are moving at a pace that’s slower than many would like, but they’re not operating solely in a vacuum, and from what I’m seeing, they are listening and learning.

The part of the twitter discussion that got quite heated was how should we, as private citizens, be engaging with the administration? How can and should we convince them to create a Facebook page for the city? How can we convince the mayor and police to interact with citizens, not just broadcast information? I stated that we can and should reach out to the administration where we know they will listen. Mayor Donchez attends city council meetings with his staff. If the city isn’t engaging via Facebook and Twitter right now, then sending all the tweets in the world isn’t going to make a difference. If we want to start a conversation, if we want to convince an administration that seems to have a different view on how social media should be used, I feel we should go to the administration instead of expecting it to come to us.

I also think that we should be encouraging what we see as positive developments, instead of just complaining that things aren’t happening fast enough. Yes, there’s a place for criticism, but I know that for me personally, if all I hear is negativity, and get no input on things that I’m doing correctly, I’m going to question why I’m bothering at all. Some are too busy to attend city council meetings, or feel that they (the administration) should come to us digitally for conversations about the subject. If you’re too busy to attend meetings, you’re too busy, I get that, but when the city has shown that they’re willing to discuss it, that they’re looking to learn, why wouldn’t we continue to work with them?

This is entirely new territory for most of the people involved in the administration. It’s important that they get it right, from a public relations and a legal standpoint. Right now they’re comfortable talking offline. In my opinion, something is better than nothing, and I think we should continue reaching out in whatever manner is proving effective. The mayor and police are both getting better about communicating online. It’s not ideal, but it’s improving. You don’t turn into Cory Booker overnight, and I don’t think that’s even what people are looking for, we just want to know what’s going on in our city, because right now, there’s a lot of silence and that’s leaving people to speculate and get frustrated.

The city’s social media policy is expected to be announced soon. I’m anxious to see what the administration comes up with, and how they implement it.

2 thoughts on “Encouraging Communication

  1. This forum is infinitely better to share fully expressed views than one tweet at a time.

    I agree that patience needs to be present; but also that there are so many little things that can be done while a social media policy is being developed. We can also be engaging with members of city council who are presently active on Twitter. They were elected to be our voice to the administration. There are a number of committees within the council with the following duties:

    COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – All matters relating to health,
    code violations, recycling, Planning, Zoning, Housing Rehabilitation,
    Inspections, Economic Development, landmarks and property of historical
    interest, and Redevelopment Authority issues.

    FINANCE – All matters relating to finance, taxes, indebtedness, bond issues,
    penalties, the operating and capital budgets, water and sewer rates, and fees.

    HUMAN RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENT – All matters relating to personnel
    and quality of life in the city, with particular attention to environmental
    matters and human and social concerns, plus Housing Authority issues.

    PARKS AND PUBLIC PROPERTY – All matters relating to City property,
    recreation, parks and buildings.

    PUBLIC SAFETY – All matters pertaining to Police, Firefighters, ambulance
    service, and Parking Authority.

    PUBLIC WORKS – All matters pertaining to streets, sewer and water systems,
    water and sewage treatment plants, engineering, electrical, and mechanical
    maintenance.

    No committee shall consider any matter which has not been referred by the
    Council except for matters which historically have been considered by the
    specific committee. Council may establish special committees, as needed.

    I would encourage reaching out to Twitter active city council members on any issue within the committee structure, until the administration produces their social media policy. When the city website is updated – I might even be able to provide a link to updated committee assignments.

    It takes a lot of people to engage in dialogue. For now, let’s not put all of our expectations into one person or Twitter handle. Just because we had someone step up and serve us in this capacity before, shouldn’t promise that kind of service again.

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