And thus it is not surprising that leaders in California cities are tweeting and Flickring and Facebooking, using interactive technologies to facilitate communication with constituents … and of course to propel politics, too.
Visionary leaders create an environment that encourages creativity to organize municipal services to go beyond the touch-tone telephone and the in-basket.
PublicCEO.com salutes leaders such as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, who find time to stay current on Twitter while they stay current on their cities’ budget crises. In fact, Garcetti has been observed, during slow stretches in city hearings, stabbing the buttons of his Blackberry for a quick tweet.
Newsom has encountered some criticism for politicizing his Twitter offerings, even advertising a “tweetraiser” to gather funds for his gubernatorial run. Newsom has also encouraged city government to innovate with interactive social networking to provide better service.
This spring, Newsom got together with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone to announce the new capability for residents to tweet to the city’s 3-1-1 city service line about, for example, potholes, overflowing garbage or an abandoned truck in a back alleyway.
Garcetti is a mobile city council president. As he drives around Los Angeles, he often pauses to tweet with civic updates: he sees a taco truck fire near Echo Park, he spots Gov. Schwarzenegger (himself an avid tweeter) cruising the LA streets in a black Hummer.
And Garcetti’s tweets reveal the heart and mind of a wonk. From a June 19 council meeting, he gives a preview: “Today on City Council agenda: hands off our gas tax, medical marijuana ordinance, state schools superintendent on dropouts, & Coliseum sale.”
“He’s a huge proponent of using new media,” said Julie Wong, a senior adviser to Garcetti. “City government should be more efficient about both getting the word out about services that are available and actually delivering the service.”
Garcetti has advocated that more city departments get more interaction with social networking.
The Los Angeles Fire Department is on Twitter, posting quick items telling the public about calls they’re rolling on, for example this entry on July 1: “*Cliff Rescue* 4100 S. Gaffey St.; MAP 854-B2; FS 48; one person over the side near point fermin; unknown condition;nfd; Ch:7,13 @7:57 PM”
Another example is the police department, which has set up an interactive email system called “E-policing,” letting neighborhood activists know about crime in their area and coordinate with an LAPD liaison officer.
Smaller cities are tapping social networks, too. Lancaster uses MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. It is about to send out a community survey to look at the use, and brainstorm ways to be more interactive, said Chenin Dow, assistant communications specialist for the city of Lancaster.
It started with MySpace two years ago, with more than 450 friends linked to the city site, Dow said. Facebook came a little later and the city has almost 900 friends there.
Those who sign up to follow these sites give the city access to people who care the most about the city and its services. Lancaster sends these enthusiasts the latest copy of the city’s “Outlook” publication with ideas for sports, activities and classes the city is hosting.
Those who sign up to follow the Orange County Parks Twitter page are a good cross-section of people the county wants to reach.
“A lot of them are local residents,” said Marisa O’Neil, public affairs manager at OC Parks. “Some are outdoorsy people from outside our area. There are companies and businesses. Mommy bloggers like to have information. And there’s the people who like to send pictures they’ve taken of the parks and I repost them.”
More counties and cities are developing ideas to use social networking to hear from the public and inform the public about government activities.
But the municipal sites need to spend some planning time to answer this question posed in a tweet on a government Web site: “Transparency is here, but what is it?”
Lance Howland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org