Berkeley officials: Social media ‘critical’ for transparency

Councilmen Gordon Wozniak and Jesse Arreguín are pushing for more transparency from Berkeley's city manager. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Councilmen Gordon Wozniak and Jesse Arreguín are pushing for more transparency from Berkeley’s city manager. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Two members of the Berkeley City Council are pushing the city manager to come up with a concrete plan about how city staff will use social media, via a consent calendar item on Tuesday night’s council agenda.

City staff said in February that a social media policy is in the works. Berkeleyside took a look at the issue that month to follow up on promises from the city in 2011 that the social media policy was in development.

Councilmen Jesse Arreguín and Gordon Wozniak cited Berkeleyside’s article in their April 1 agenda item, in which they direct city manager Christine Daniel to make a report to council on staff efforts to create the policy, and come up with a plan for the use of social media by city departments.

Arreguín and Wozniak said it is “critical” for the city to “move ahead in adopting a social media policy and implementing the use of social media by the Berkeley Police Department, Public Works and other city departments,” particularly because the city is a university town with a large number of residents who use social media “as a primary means of communication.”

Embracing social media would also be consistent with “the goals of open and transparent government” described in the city’s Open Government Ordinance (BMC Chapter 2.06) and the city’s Mission Statement, they write.

In particular, the council members highlight how social media has been used as a tool to provide public safety-related information and build the public trust by nearby police departments.

Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan has said he wants to do the same thing, but has been unable to do so until the city creates its social media policy.

“A February 19, 2014 article on Berkeleyside talked about how the Oakland Police Department and other law enforcement agencies have used social media to improve community-police relations and to help solve crimes,” according to the agenda item. “The February 19, 2014 article also quoted Chief Meehan who expressed his desire to use social media but stated that prior to the Berkeley Police Department implementing social media the city needed to develop a formal policy.”

Council men confident challenges can be overcome

In their agenda item, Arreguín and Wozniak lay out some of the challenges raised in the past about city use of social media, from who is allowed to post it, to whether it is reviewed before being posted, and how to make sure it’s being used properly.

But they say they are confident the challenges can be overcome: “All of these issues can be addressed with clear administrative guidelines that specify who writes and approves content and conditions of use. Many cities have looked at these issues and developed policies that allow for the use of social media by city staff, but subject to regulations to minimize potential liability.”

Council members point to the December 2011 social media policy adopted by the city’s Rent Stabilization Board as one resource the city could use going forward. (The Rent Board created a Facebook page in December 2012, though it hasn’t been very active.)

Council members are set to vote on the social media item as part of their April 1 consent calendar.

City spokesman Matthai Chakko said in February that he was in the process of researching and developing the city’s social media policy to make sure the city takes a smart, effective approach and allocates resources fairly

“We’re developing a social media policy, including an analysis of the resources necessary to properly support the use of social media as a part of our overall communication strategy,” Chakko wrote, via email. “We want to deliver information to the community in the most effective ways, and social media is one tool that we’re interested in.”

He said the city’s goal is to make sure that “every area/district of the City receives the same level of service. We would not want to rely on staff using this communication tool voluntarily, or only as they have available time, only to see that some areas of the City receive the service, but others do not. Additionally, we want to have our policies in place first so that all staff are aware of the rules and expectations about how the tool will be used.”

3 years on, city of Berkeley still stuck on social media (02.19.14)
Why doesn’t the city of Berkeley have a Facebook page? (03.14.11)
A council member takes to Twitter, other officials lag (05.27.11)

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  • bgal4

    Emily, this is confusing, why is Chakko on the agenda for next week’s BSNC meeting to discuss the city social media policy if there is no policy yet?

  • emraguso

    My understanding is that BSNC asked for an update about the policy in January, so the report was scheduled.

  • guest

    It takes all of 30 seconds to sign up for a Facebook or Twitter account.

    What’s the holdup?

  • EBGuy

    So you believe city government should be supporting these EXTREMELY large corporations by driving citizens into their loving arms. Nice. Also make sure you signup for MySocialMediaApp startup as well. Oh never mind, I’ve got an in with the City Manager; I’ll make sure it happens.

  • guest

    The City needs to make sure this social media stuff catches on. After all there wasn’t any Facebook when we took the Park!

  • DisGuested


  • bgal4

    well, last time they asked for input on how to present crime data for community consumption they tossed out every request and suggestion without an explanation just “not gonna happen”

  • I’d like to see the city use Social Media to communicate with the community. My fear is that they will make a complete mess of it like they have the city web site. I’ll be darned if I can find anything quickly in that heap of digital spaghetti they call a web site.

  • guest

    Wow, not a response I expected to see from you. Do you want them to fax you updates or something? Maybe send you messages about meetings by telegraph?

    Nobody’s holding a gun to your head and forcing you to use anything. Utilizing Twitter or Facebook wouldn’t stop the city from continuing to not update citizens at all using the stone-age communications platforms they already don’t use.

  • guest

    The website is the result of endless community meetings and using ill-equipt city staff instead of hiring private companies that specialize in web design. Since we seem to be starting the process of endless community meetings about social media, I doubt we’ll see anything different in this sphere.

  • EBGuy

    I am a techno-luddite at heart. I bought my first ultra-portable, capacitve touch screen, low powered, networked, computer last year. Shockingly, it does remarkable well transmitting missives longer than 140 characters. It also allows me to use a monitored or unmonitored messaging service –though, on certain occasions, I am not above using a Morse code App.

  • Hyper_lexic

    What is the ‘BSNC’?

  • emraguso

    It’s kind of an umbrella group for neighborhood watch block captains.

  • bgal4

    Berkeley Safe Neighborhood Committee. BSNC struggles to be effective largely because the city has little interest in community empowerment succeeding.