Tech Watch: A Call to Action

Category:  Tech Watch
Wednesday, June 13th, 2012 at 7:00 AM

In the last Tech Watch, I discussed “why” the City of Erie needs social media. The increased tourism, the political participation, and the sense of community are all glittering lures…but how can we actually make this happen? Talk is one thing, but action is another idea entirely. Changing how the government communicates with its citizens is no easy task, but one that is important on a fundamental level. When was the last time you sent a telegraph to the mayor?

To all my conservative friends: yes, this will cost money. Nothing in the world is free, and social media is no exception. But think of it this way: would you rather spend some money on the mayor’s office to install phone lines, or would you rather spend the day waiting in his office for a 2-minute meeting with the man himself? Time is money, and efficiency in communication will save money in the long term. Not to mention the increased revenue from all the tourism we could receive. The time to capitalize on this momentum is now. Let’s look at how we can accomplish it.

New York City made huge waves in city governance by hiring a “Chief Digital Officer.” From the press release, the city is poised to move forward in bridging the digital communication gap between citizens and government:

“The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) Commissioner Katherine Oliver announced the hiring of Rachel Sterne as the City’s first Chief Digital Officer, a role established by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Commissioner Oliver with the goal of improving communication with residents and businesses by enhancing government transparency and working closely with digital media.”

I hate to break it to you, but Erie is no New York City. Okay, that being said, we need to start thinking like we are. Living in a city that exists under the presumption that it is second-rate is tiring and exhausting. Erie can and will be great, so let’s start acting like it. I’m certainly not saying that we need to hire a “Chief Digital Officer” with a salary equivalent to that of our current mayor, but we can certainly move forward and put someone into a communications position in the city. Why not? Hire a Communications Director of Erie, and I guarantee that we’ll see a return on that investment in the next five years.

Even if that doesn’t appeal to you, we can still create waves by making all government more “social.” I sat down with City Councilman David Brennan. As we talked about the idea of social media for local government, he told me that he would love to see more people attending the City Council meetings—not just the regular few that show up frequently, but new people adding their voices to the mix.

I challenge someone to look me in the face and tell me that we can’t make that happen. Here’s the plan. Step 1: LiveStream and LiveTweet the City Council meetings. Put them up on the Internet and let citizens see what’s happening in their government. Step 2: Get every member of City Council and the Mayors office enaged in social media. You know how easy it is to set up a Facebook account? In the time it took me to write this article, I could have created Facebook accounts for half of the PA Legislature.  Legislators on a local level are already doing this. People like Dave Brennan and Bob Merski have taken social media to the next level and have informative discussions on their Facebook page all the time. Why isn’t Erie Mayor Joe Sinnot on there? You assume his office has a phone line and email address, so why do we accept the fact that he’s ignoring the fastest-growing website on the planet?

If we can encourage one person to vote in November, this effort will be worth it. If we can convince one person to take a trip to Erie to see everything we have to offer, it’s worth it.

Erie: the Internet is yours for the taking… now let’s make this happen.

-Michael Haas

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