For the sake of accountability, all elected officials should be using social media
Transparency in local government has been a hot topic in recent weeks — from the potential of dark money being used to influence Rochester politics to news that community leaders are privately holding discussions on public projects.
Both issues have already been discussed at great length in public forums, social media threads and news publications. Therefore, I will not spend any time here discussing the ethics or opposing viewpoints of either topic.
What I will say is this: Much of the frustration comes from the notion that policies and decisions are being made behind closed doors, leaving the public with less influence than we would like or, perhaps, deserve.
Local representatives, from council members to state legislators, must recognize this frustration and leverage tools available to them to be more responsive to their constituents and be more transparent in their actions.
For many, creating a presence on social media — particularly Facebook and Twitter — would be a good start. Right now only a handful of local leaders use these platforms professionally, and even less use them effectively.
Why is that? Some would argue it requires too much additional time for an already underpaid position (council members make about $20K annually). Others are just too out of touch with the modern world to appreciate the added value of being able to communicate directly with the public.
Both reasons are understandable, though neither is excusable.
More than 50 percent of all Americans are on Facebook. As you may expect, that number is even higher for young people. And when it comes to politics, 61 percent of millennials rely on the social network as a source for news.
When local leaders are not engaged on social media, they are missing out on the pulse of the community; they are not taking part in the conversations affecting the most important issues of the day; and they are not putting themselves out there to be held accountable by the individuals they serve.
Now, this is not to say every public representative needs to tweet 20 times a day (looking at you Michael Wojcik) or take a selfie every time they attend an event. But they do need to be where the people are and they do need to embrace new technology that will allow them to better serve their constituents.
To put it bluntly, it's become part of the job — so get used to it.
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(Cover graphic: The Med City Beat)