INDIANA BOROUGH: Council debates social media use
March 19, 2014 11:00 AM
by RANDY WELLS

Establishing its own social media outlets would likely help Indiana Borough improve its communications with borough residents and engage the community — especially the young adults — in borough events and issues. But because the social media outlets would also represent a municipal government and elected officials, some special considerations are warranted.

Those were a couple comments offered Tuesday as an ad hoc committee of borough council presented some of its preliminary findings on creating a social media presence for the borough.

Council in January approved the creation of the ad hoc committee that is looking for ways to improve communications between council and residents and avenues to keep residents better informed about such things as vacancies on commissions, meeting cancellations and dates for leaf pickups and Christmas tree collections.

Councilman Gerald Smith, chairman of the committee, said goals of the study are also to improve two-way communications between borough government and the community and to increase awareness of opportunities for residents to weigh in on council decisions.

And social media, he said, has become an important way for many people, especially young adults, to get their information.

In a draft of social media procedures under consideration for the borough, the ad hoc committee suggests that the borough’s social media consist of Facebook and Twitter. Other platforms could be added as capacity or need increases.

Posts on the social media could include announcements of and minutes from borough council meetings; information on events like parades and street fairs; and proposed ordinances available for public comment.

Suggested guidelines in the draft for other users include posting only meaningful, respectful comments, statements that are true and that conform to copyright laws, and that are polite, even when disagreeing with someone else’s opinion.

The ad hoc committee’s draft also suggests that the borough should reserve the right to remove posted content for several reasons, including if it is offensive, promotes discrimination, solicits business or compromises the safety or security of the public.

Still to be decided is if the borough’s social media outlets should allow for two-way communication.

“It comes down to staff (resources),” and how much time could be allocated to managing the social media outlets, said Councilman John Hartman, an ad hoc committee member.

Smith said the draft was created with an assumption that seven to 10 hours a week might be needed to maintain and administer the social media sites. He suggested that could be a unique opportunity for an Indiana University of Pennsylvania student intern.

Hartman offered a warning that three or more council members posting on the same social media site might be construed as a violation of the Sunshine Law.

Council President Nancy Jones said she has some reservations about the borough delving into social media. She said a Facebook posting in February by a council member concerning the request to move the Indiana County Farmers Market to the new IRMC Park was “offensive” to a downtown business owner.

A posting like that, she said, “doesn’t help pull us together as a group. … It’s detrimental.”

Jones did not identify the person who posted the unspecified comment and said it was later removed.

Councilwoman Katherine Hood recommended that the borough have a one-way Facebook page. Doing so, she said, would present council as “a less confusing body … a more sympathetic body … that we are trying to be more open.”

And ad hoc committee member Michaelina Olmstead said a Facebook page could be a useful supplement to the borough’s website and a popular way to reach many of the young adults living in Indiana Borough.

Smith said the committee plans more meetings to refine its findings and recommendations.

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