Council's brave new world 

City Sage

Friday, 5:45 a.m.: I stumble out of bed, let dog out, make coffee, open laptop, check Facebook, and it's there — Lisa Czelatdko's latest post.

"Kenyon Jordan, publisher of the Westside Pioneer, is not on Facebook or any other social networks. So how do I get more district information out to my Westsiders and all my district 3 residents that are dependent on print news or do not have access to the internet? Suggestions please."

By mid-morning, 10 people have responded, from facetious ("smoke signals?") to useful ("Print an article from the recent archives and the 'Finding the Pioneer' page on the other side. Hand them out when you're meeting district residents and tell them where they can find the paper...").

Among Colorado Springs City Council members, four appear to use social media with any regularity: Czelatdko, Brandy Williams, Tim Leigh and (surprise!) Bernie Herpin. Jan Martin posts occasionally, while Angela Dougan, Merv Bennett and Val Snider are inactive. Their pages were apparently created as campaign tools, tossed aside after the election.

And Council President Scott Hente, who wasn't up for re-election in April, doesn't have a Facebook page.

That's a big mistake, says local social media expert Tonya Hall.

"Social media, and especially Facebook, are huge resources for anybody in politics," she says. "It's about breaking down the wall between constituents and elected officials, and constantly engaging people in real time."

That doesn't mean just posting links to events, or telling your whereabouts.

"Look at [Newark Mayor] Corey Booker," Hall says. "He has a million followers on Twitter — one million! He responds personally to tweets, so that if someone tells him that there's a malfunctioning stoplight, he's on it immediately. He's engaged."

By contrast, Hall says, most of our politicians are using Facebook to pass on information, explain positions or update their activities. Such as...

Herpin: "The USAFA Solar Array from the air: 18,888 panels on 32 acres delivering 6MW of clean energy."

Williams: "I made it to 'work' in one piece this morning, only to call my father later to hear that the City Council had definitely begun to start a buzz throughout the city. On the Richard Randall show this morning they were discussing City Council's approval to spend approximately $21,000 for a mural in downtown Colorado Springs. I would love your thoughts..."

Leigh: "Rode here on my road bike & went up the F'ing Incline. All with my broken femur."

Czelatdko, by contrast, solicits input while policy is being created. She may post five times daily on topics as diverse as the fate of mature trees in the North End or activist Al Brody's plans for Burning Man.

"The girl gets it," says Hall of Czelatdko. "She understands that her constituents are on Facebook, she asks a million questions, she's constantly engaged, and she gives them a voice."

What about Mayor Steve Bach? He promised a new kind of administration: open, accountable, thrifty and transparent. It's hard to imagine a more direct, transparent and thrifty way of communicating than Facebook, but so far Bach is notably absent from his own page. On June 15, Austin Eli posted on Bach's wall: "What made you decide to that city employees can't talk to the media without it being approved? That's what the Gazette just posted."

A day later she commented on her own post. "Hello? Answer please!"

So far, no response. That may be because Bach's Facebook page was created and monitored by campaign staff. But Bach's interim head of communications, Stephannie Finley, says plans are in the works for his Facebook page to interact more, particularly with young professionals.

Ghosted Facebook pages are common enough, but do they make sense for a small-town pol? Consider the non-response to Eli — 30 seconds of Bach's Blackberry/iPhone time would have solved that problem.

"With social media, you can have a five-minute press conference from Starbucks," Hall observes. "People want to know that elected officials are listening, and that he/she is acting on what they hear. It's so quick and simple."

And for politicians who see social media as irrelevant to their job, Hall has a sobering prediction: "They won't get re-elected."


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