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.”

Related:
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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