ST. GEORGE — The Santa Clara City Council discussed ways to increase transparency and establish a marketable social media presence during a work meeting held Sept. 4.
The discussion was sparked by confusion surrounding the founding of an anonymous Facebook page that uses profile and cover pictures connected to the city’s official social media accounts.
The account, “Santa Clara Community Connections,” has been active since late July with a handful of likes and followers. Councilman Jarrett Waite says the similarities to the city’s official page could be detrimental to the open communication the City Council is trying to initiate with its residents.
Members of the City Council are worried about the content that is posted and how it reflects on city officials. Most of the page’s posts are shared directly from official city pages, but two posts emphasize a negative view of Waite and City Manager Brock Jacobsen.
Waite said he has been in touch with Washington City Council members who have experienced similar problems with a group called “Washington City Matters.” The group has almost 2,000 members, but its description includes a disclaimer that reads “this page is not officially maintained or monitored by Washington City.”
According to Waite, the Santa Clara city officials have reached out to the page, asking the owner to place a disclaimer that the account is not affiliated with the City Council or any city entities somewhere on the page, but the owner of the page has yet to respond to the city’s request. The next step is for the city’s attorney to send an official request, although the page owner’s anonymity makes it difficult for the city to get in touch with them.
The councilman suggested establishing a group similar to Washington City’s “Your Washington City Discussion Group” where residents can ask questions and receive timely responses. However, he said the city would need someone who is knowledgeable about the city who could keep an eye on the page throughout the day.
“I view it as another way for citizens to communicate with us that they’re maybe more comfortable with or familiar with,” Waite said. “Just from personal experience, calling into city staff I think maybe half the time I’ve been successful actually getting someone on the phone.”
Councilman Herb Basso said the group would be a great way for the city to answer questions and communicate with many people at once. On the other hand, councilwoman Mary Jo Hafen said the timely access to information could also work against the city by facilitating the spread of false information through the comments.
Owners of Facebook groups and pages have the ability to appoint administrators who can delete inappropriate posts and vulgar or false comments as well as “ban” users from participating. Waite said if anyone who joined the group and was not positively or genuinely contributing to discussions, whoever is tasked with overseeing the page would be given the power to delete their contributions.
Waite explained that the establishment of the group “will not always be pretty,” warning there will be posts the council doesn’t necessarily want to read but may offer insight at the same time. The group, at the very least, would allow the city to answer questions in real time or refer residents to someone who could address their concerns.
“That’s where the benefit, I think, will come back into the city for making the investment in time,” Mayor Rick Rosenberg said. “You could use it to be proactive with the communication in addition to answering questions and then you give some benefit back to the taxpayer with the funds you’re spending in that.”
The city discussed appointing the duties of overseeing a group to current staff but said over time, they might find they need another person who is specifically over the social media accounts, such as a public information officer or communications director.
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