At their Feb. 3 council meeting, South Algonquin council discussed Councillor Bongo Bongo’s proposal for the township to create a social media strategy. After much discussion on the issue, council amended the resolution to create a communications strategy for the township with social media being a part of that. With that change, the resolution was passed unanimously by council. They also pledged to discuss it further at the next Human Resources and Administration meeting.
Mayor Jane Dumas introduced the resolution for council to direct staff to create a social media strategy for the township based on Bongo’s presentation at the Jan. 20 Economic Development meeting. Dumas suggested that the resolution work with the HR and Administration committee to discuss it and further develop the proposal.
“It doesn’t only deal with economic development; it deals with communication of council to the residents of South Algonquin. I think it’s really important that we again have a really fulsome discussion about this at committee, so council has the opportunity to have their input to put their questions forward and then come up with a plan,” she says.
Dumas went on to say that it was something that would take some discussion and some time and she would call a vote on it based upon that provision. At that point, she asked if there was any other discussion on it.
Bongo then asked if he could make some comments before the vote. He thanked everyone for listening to his presentation and pointed out that his slide presentation was in the council meeting agenda packet.
“With regard to this whole social media initiative, all my professional development mentors have been emphasizing the importance of municipalities needing to increase their social media programs. Here’s a quick example of where a comprehensive social media strategy would have helped us. That is with the recent burnpermits.com, let’s call it a Facebook discussion, that happened throughout this week. I think that we could have avoided a lot of misinformation and negative feelings on Facebook had we implemented a four-week social media education campaign about burnpermits.com. So really this is a vote to improve our public relations, this is a vote to increase our level of public engagement and this is a vote to increase our transparency as well,” he says.
Bongo emphasized that to bring their municipality into 2021, there are a lot of social media improvements that could be made. He realizes that it’s a new, demanding and at times intimidating thing, but it can’t be ignored.
“A modern municipal government in 2021 needs to be active on social media. We have the newsletter, which is great with all the information in it, but that information should be cycled through social media almost every day. I hope my arguments were clear in my presentation and if anyone has any questions, I’m always happy to answer them,” he says.
Dumas said the slide presentation was very informative, and while she understood that it was the obligation of the municipal council to have connectivity with the community, there were limits.
“We must be very clear that personal blogs and means of conversing with the public are personal and at any given point, there are seven voting members of this council and there could be seven very different ideas personally,” she says.
Dumas said that items move forward with a vote of council, and while public input is good, they have elected the representatives to sit around the table and vote on the issues and make decisions on their behalf.
“So, having this available through a structured municipal process where the message is controlled and vetted by members of council before it goes out to the public is a proper and correct way to get news in regards to municipal activities out there,” she says.
Holly Hayes, the clerk and treasurer, had some comments on Bongo’s resolution. She felt that they were talking about two different things; a discussion about social media and also, they were talking about staff time to provide the public with information about services or operations of the municipality.
“These two conversations are very distinct and need to be clarified. Staff don’t have the time to manage how councillors behave on social media and if we need a policy or to update a policy regarding social media and how people talk about council affairs, we can go forward with that. The other part of this is the staff time associated with it. I’m going to be honest, social media is toxic, it’s a time sink,” she says.
Hayes went on to say that the township had done very good work in the past year to update their website and do the kinds of things they need to do from a communications perspective. She felt that they should come up with a communications plan, not just a social media plan.
“We should do something that talks about everything staff are doing to communicate with the public, because I think social media is just a fraction of that. So, if this is something we want to pursue, we can go in that direction, but I don’t think it needs to be specific to social media and I think there need to be policies associated with it,” she says.
Dumas agreed, and reiterated that was why it should come back to a committee meeting to have that dialogue.
“So, again, we’ll take this to and HR and Administration meeting and come out of that with some direction,” she says.
In order to pass the resolution that day, Dumas suggested to Bongo that they modify it to say that they were directing staff to create a communications strategy based in part upon his social media proposal. She asked him what he thought of that and he found that acceptable.
“I suppose that social media can be included in the category of communication and if the township and the majority of council think that improvements can be made in our digital communications and if members want to discuss that further and not exclude social media from the future conversation, then that is fine by me,” he says.
With that comment, council took a recorded vote of the modified resolution, to look into a communications strategy for the township based in part on Bongo’s social media proposal. They also pledged to discuss it further at the next HR and Administration committee meeting. The resolution in this form was passed unanimously by council.
Bongo commented on the council’s decision after the council meeting.
“I thought the resolution to dedicate staff time to create a digital communications strategy partially based on my social media proposal was a huge win for everyone. I thought it was a moment of compromise that will lead to some major improvements in the township’s public relations,” he says. “I will be honest, I thought the resolution would be voted down, so the fact that it was unanimously passed, albeit with the resolution edited, is incredible.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times