This recent headline in my local newspaper caught my eye;
“Whatcom County councilors like Facebook; public-records rules remain fuzzy”
The piece briefly examines the use of Facebook by county elected officials, and the reasons why some use it and others avoid it like the plague. One councilor bluntly stated his position on why he doesn’t use Facebook;
“I’m in the phone book. I have been in the phone book since the first day I was elected into office 30 years ago.”
In other words, “people can come find ME if they want to talk”. Man, I hope he was misquoted or the statement taken out of context.
That’s a pretty arrogant statement councilor, and also dangerous. Why? Because, it implies citizen opinions don’t matter unless they gain enough interest to attract media attention, and/or the councilor is directly engaged in the conversation. It also naively implies the only important conversations are taking place in community meetings, coffee shops, civic clubs and board rooms. Nothing is farther from the truth. The most important public conversations about government are now taking place on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. Don’t believe me? Just ask the mayor and police chief of Ferguson Missouri.
The article also notes the lack of a county social media use policy and lack of clear understanding of how social media can be used without running afoul of state public disclosure and open meeting laws. This is a legitimate and shared concern, especially by law enforcement agencies. But, it’s not a legitimate excuse. There are lots of examples of public agency social media policies consistent with state disclosure laws.
Today, citizens expect their elected officials to be fully accessible, attentive and engaging. At least one of my county councilors gets it, and has a strong social media presence (I also think he is the youngest of the bunch).
Having your name listed in the phone book doesn’t cut it. Besides, who gets a phone book anymore?