With the first, Audrey Pinkerton, the Manteca city manager’s wife, played a big supporting role. She gave birth to Daniel.
The other blessed event was a project Steve Pinkerton had been working on for months: a city manager’s blog for Manteca.
In fact, while Audrey was in labor, Steve stole minutes here and there to line up the computer links and be ready for the launch of the blog when he got back to his office.
PublicCEO.com doesn’t recommend this combination as the right time to launch a blog. But city officials who have used such a blog to inform the public and city staff swear by its utility.
There was another rite of passage this year. Wally Bobkiewicz, the pioneer of city manager blogs in California, left Santa Paula and took the city manager’s job in Evanston, Ill. In fact, he has scheduled a meeting for late August to gather resources for launching a city manager’s blog in Evanston.
Back in Santa Paula, the city’s blog remains with Bobkiewicz’s valedictory posting atop it, “Thank You and Good Bye,” from July 17 — his 1,153rd post since November 2004.
It was the first city managers blog in California, said Santa Paula Mayor Ralph J. Fernandez.
Maybe even the first in the nation — the International City/County Management Association web site lists local government blogs all over the country, and Santa Paula has the oldest start date. See here.
“It has worked very well in Santa Paula,” said Fernandez. “I’m very supportive of it. The only reservation we have right now is a time management thing. Is the blog something that we should be putting manpower into, at this time (of budget crunch) when it’s difficult to allocate staff time?”
Specifically, Fernandez mentioned the time to screen anonymous posts on the blog. “Controlling a blog you have to be real careful there are no personal attacks on someone or something like that that people can find offensive.”
It’s a source of pride for the Ventura County city of 29,000, which is ringed by orange, lemon and avocado groves. “Santa Paula played a role in the forefront of blogs and showed a way that blogs could be done well,” said the mayor.
The Santa Paula blog features a breezy, newsy style. Sometimes it was one line to send the reader to a link for more information about the upcoming Citrus Festival.
At other times, it was a fuller explanation of a power outage the day before that knocked out the city’s 9-1-1 service. This included a note that city police had extra auto patrols out during the outage. On the day of the outage, the city government hustled to get a one-liner on the blog with a direct phone number to use instead of 9-1-1.
A two-sentence item sends readers to a link where they can apply to be the new city manager.
The city hopes to have a new permanent manager in place by Jan. 1. The new hire maintaining the city blog is not a requirement in the recruitment process, said Fernandez.
Whether the blog continues will be a decision informed by the city council, the new manager and budget restraints, Fernandez said.
Years ago, Bobkiewicz worked with Pinkerton in Long Beach city government. In Manteca, Pinkerton was hired last year. He was intrigued by the blog idea mentioned at a workshop at a conference last fall of the League of California Cities.
A blog is an Internet site with postings akin to a diary; in the case of a city, with listings of civic happenings and explanations of municipal policy. A loyal readership needs regular postings, said Pinkerton. Week-old news won’t cut it.
Pinkerton said a blog is more appropriate than Twitter, with its confining limits on the number of characters in posts. (See PublicCEO.com piece on cities using Twitter)
As the city heads into a period of layered negotiations with staff, Pinkerton strives for transparent posts about bargaining positions. “I want labor folks and the independent folks and the union reps to understand what my take is,” he said.
Every week, Pinkerton said, he tries to post comments and media pieces about the fiscal crisis in municipal, which will be a prominent item in Manteca negotiations.
The blog notes contract settlements elsewhere in California, Pinkerton said. “As we go through decession, we’re aware of all the cities that have reached conclusions,” he said. “It gets rid of the some of the gamesmanship when you know you’re on an even playing field and they know where we stand.”
Pinkerton said if city unions show flexibility on pension reform, that sacrifice might play well in public opinion — which may even be reflected on the blog.
Manteca’s blog has newsy items and longer pieces reminiscent of a seminar in city government. These reflect Pinkerton’s reading of articles and news trends from other cities. In one, Pinkerton opines that Manteca, a city of 65,000 in San Joaquin County, might apply the concept of local currency used to goose shopping at city businesses. He cites the example of Mesa, Ariz., where the locals can show local receipts and get a break on fees at the arts center or city museums.
The blog does not consume too much of his time, said Pinkerton, who appreciates the way researching items keeps him current. “It’s a nice continuing education process, looking at subjects,” he said. “It’s one thing to read it and another thing to put it in a simple declaratory paragraph.”
The Manteca site was born in March with folders marked for Pinkerton and seven department heads. It has evolved that most department heads now send him a report that Pinkerton then runs or excerpts, sometimes with his comments about the issue.
The city has had more than 150 posts since March, of which perhaps 40 or 50 were “independent thoughts,” said Pinkerton.
Sometimes Pinkerton responds to a newspaper article about city government.
Pinkerton is disappointed about interactivity, that the blog has not drawn more posts made by residents responding to city issues. He feels that will come in time as the blog catches on.
At city meetings, Pinkerton said, “I see a lot of people who are aware of things because they read it in the blog.”
“I find government interesting and all the things we’re doing interesting and I want to share that,” said Pinkerton.
And sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning when it’s his turn to be up with the baby, Pinkerton grabs a chance to tap on his computer to find relevant articles for the blog.
Lance Howland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org