The following message was posed to our readers on Wednesday afternoon: Should Public Administrators Have the Freedom to Twitter?

In an age when so many messages are shaped and filtered by public relations experts, does it make sense to let a member of an organization just spout off about anything and everything?

Do you feel that Local Governments are going to or should put a lid on city employees?

Here are a couple top responses:

Paul McIntosh
Executive Director, California State Association of Counties

You raise an interesting question in regards to Twitter and should a public agency control the use of that social networking tool.  On the one hand, it is incumbent on a local agency, be it a city, county or district, to communicate with its constituency by whatever means is most effective.  For the most part, though, I am not sure that can be accomplished in 140 characters.

However the administrator or an elected official may find Twitter to be productive means by which to communicate short messages internally to the organization or externally to constituents.  We have found Twitter to be an excellent public relations tool – not for social networking, but for connecting to key members of the press and administration.

During this last budget process, CSAC used Twitter heavily to keep our message in front of people and it was very effective.  That being said, we do have internal policies controlling the use of Twitter.

So, long story short, I do believe agencies should regulate the use of social networking tools, like Twitter.  We do not pay our employees to spend their time chatting in 140 character segments.  But, agencies should look at the use of social networking tool if they are an effective means of communicating their message.

Don Landers
Visalia City Council Member wrote:

As a Council Member, I prefer that communications come from the City Manager or the person he or she designates to disseminate official information from the Government organization. 

Employees are free to express personal opinions in whatever manner they choose as long as they do not discuss privileged or confidential information in the public domain.  The employee should realize and exercise common sense in this endeavor.

Much of the answer to any of these questions will depend on the type of organization (Mayor-council, City Manager-Council, charter city, City Administrator vs. City Manager, etc.) and the size of the organization and the resources available.

The answer may also be dependent on the media market you live and operate in. 

The larger the market, the more channels/stations/print media there are trying to break “the news” first and the more tempting it is for city employees to enter the fray, frequently through the Web site letter to the editors that are anonymous, especially for disgruntled employees. 

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