SCLPC City Features

Social Media Tips for Elected Officials

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By: Dennis Hernandez, dhernandez@lunaglushon.com

Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and even email, are powerful tools available to city council and school board members. Facebook and Twitter accounts are easy to create. Communicating with constituents about an issue coming before the board or sharing your ideas about the Common Core standard can be fast and responses from constituents can be furious. But some elected officials have run into trouble using social media. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Think about how you want to communicate: Social media can be fully interactive or can be more limited. You have options. You can set up your Facebook page or blog to allow comment and feedback from constituents, or it can be information only, not allowing comment. If you want to be fully interactive, there are risks: risk that you will offend someone, risk that you will turn people off, and risks that you will invite that crazy constituent that shows up at every meeting to continue the rant online.
  2. You can’t take it back: The biggest problem in social media is the fact that the send button is easy to reach. Be thoughtful and deliberate in your communications with constituents. Think about each post as if it were going out on your personal stationary. Don’t hit send if you wrote the post in anger or if you were in a hurry. Show it first to a trusted source. Look for typos and grammatical errors. And remember, sometimes the story is not about what you said, but how you said it.
  3. Don’t blur the lines: As an elected official, you have a pubic life as a legislator and public official, a political life (that is the work of getting reelected), and a private life. When using social media, keep these different roles in mind as you communicate. You wouldn’t want to share personal or confidential information on your public education page, and you certainly don’t want to campaign on a city website. Each of these roles involves a different kind of communication. Keep them straight.
  4. Know the rules: If you are using publicly-owned technology (computer, email, website), check to see if there are policies governing the use of social media. Know that you are creating a public record. Follow rules 1, 2 and 3 above.

Democracy is alive and well online. As an elected official, you can use social media to educate, communicate, and to build a strong following on the issues you are passionate about. Keep these tips in mind, and you will be ahead of the game.

Dennis is an attorney in private practice with more than thirty years experience with municipal, education and other public sector clients. 

 

 

One Year After The Scandal: The City of Bell Scores Top Grades For Open Data Access

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By Bill Britt
For The Latino Policy Connection

The City of Bell has developed a powerful tool designed to pull back the covers of government and reveal how city finances work. A new city website was created not only to inform residents about city employee salaries and contracts, but also, hopefully, re-instill confidence in local government.

“Before the scandal was exposed, we didn’t even have a website,” says Mayor Nestor Valencia.   “For years, if you clicked on it, it was the same online picture of a little girl and boy with the caption, ‘Website under construction.’ Our new Finance Director has since turned things around.”

The “scandal” Mayor Valencia refers to thrust the small working-class Latino city into the national spotlight. One year ago this month, former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo was sentenced to 12 years in prison and five former elected Bell officials were convicted of corruption for paying themselves salaries of up to $100,000 a year. For a time the scandal turned the city into a symbol of government corruption. And not only did Rizzo and his crew con the city out of millions, they left it unable to afford the experienced administrators and staff who are now needed to replace them.

Enter Josh Betta, the Finance Director Mayor Valencia is proud to point out. He’s so good at his job that during his tenure as Finance Director for the City of Glendora, he received the Certificate of Achievement, the highest form of recognition for governmental accounting and financial reporting. He regarded working Bell as challenge.

Says Betta, “the idea of having a useful and viable website is simply good business. The challenge is letting people know it exists. After they find it, the challenge for users is perspective. Sure, you can see our salaries but if you want to know whether a salary or increase is appropriate, you have to find the contract pertaining to that union. It’s also on the website, but you’ve got to do the work. It’s not all laid out for you.”

Which is why Mayor Valencia wants to take the website a step further by making that contract, and other information, easy to find. “Visually,” he says, “I’d like to see a tab where people go right to the specific things they’re looking for, but personally, mindful of those fake bonus rewards that were exposed in the scandal, I want us to post total compensation. Not just salaries but pensions, health care benefits and any potential, legitimate bonuses as well.”

While Betta boasts that the city’s website earned an A-minus grade from the Sunshine Report, an organization that evaluates the transparency of websites, Valencia points out that Bell has replaced one image problem for another: It can’t afford to hire quality administrators and support staff. Valencia says the city’s interim city manager has moved on, and both Financial Director Betta, and the Community Development Director are also leaving.

“Our current city manager did great work. Our Finance Director, who was key to this turnaround, is moving on. They’ve done their work and other cities are able to pay them more money. We just don’t have the funds to compete.”