Bill Gentes, mayor of Round Lake, Ill., is running for state senate as a Democrat in the 26th district. He has the good sense to separate his campaign blog from his mayor blog. The Libertyville Review, which called him "blogging mayor" in their first reference to him in a story on his race, reports:
"If elected, Gentes said he would 'act as a cheerleader for the region,' blogging all the while to keep his would-be constituents informed."
Our interview with Blogging Bill from December 2007 is here.
In its primary endorsement, the Chicago Tribune calls Gentes an "engaged, effective public servant." Wonder what impact his blogging had on inspiring such words?
The Miami Herald reports on on yet another controversy regarding a public figure and digital communications: "New e-mails have surfaced that appear to further implicate new Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho in a romantic relationship with a former Miami Herald reporter -- only days before the School Board is expected to vote on Carvalho's $275,000 contract." This one has been going on for awhile, with revelations weekly. By the way, "surfaced" means "leaked."
A few months ago we referenced a long controversy involving testimony from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick revealed to be lies after his cellphone texts came to light. Kilpatrick has since been thrown out of office and sentenced to prison. It is cases like these that make life hell for those who are otherwise law-abiding who seek to serve but find navigating the email/texting shoals a bit complicated. The point of view these public figures find themselves up against is illustrated by this commenter at the Detroit Free Press's freep.com:
The text messages cease to be private because A. The phones were OWNED by the tax-payers of Detroit and B. Certain information contained in those message led to the whistle-blower investigation and felony charges ...We are ALL entitled to see what other damaging information is contained in these files ... Perhaps they will even shed some light on a certain murder investigation ... For those that think this woman has been dragged through the mud and has suffered enough, WISE UP ... Detroiters deserve the WHOLE TRUTH!
Get that part? "We are all entitled." Read collected coverage about this sad and disgusting tale here from the good people of the Detroit Free Press. [I was but a humble contributor to this fine, award-winning daily newspaper back in the '90s.]
Spending a few days in New York City this week, I found this tasty little item: Julie Schreck, the blogging mayor of Bradley Beach, New Jersey, has leaped into a controversy stoked by an obviously delighted local media such as the New York Post, about a newsletter from Ken Pringle, the mayor of nearby Belmar, N.J., who complained in energetic detail about the annual invasion to his community by 'guidos' as well as by brawling Staten Island females. More here from the Asbury Park Press and here in the New York Times City Room blog. Both of which offer plenty of hilarious comments.
Schreck replied that her community welcomes all, but apparently some commenters on her blog are not as enthusiastic about many of their summer beach visitors. From those not from the lovely tri-state region, here is a guido definition. And: guidos get no respect, apparently. More useful assistance here. (We always thought the spelling would be "gweedo," for some reason.) Gawker describes the inevitable boycott threat. See how much fun blogging and newslettering mayors can have?
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg describes his Facebook profile:
“I now have 3,715 friends, of whom I actually know three,” he said.
Mr. Mayor, you said a mouth full.
There certainly would be a big audience in New York City for a regularly-updated Michael Bloomberg blog. And if any mayor in the country could make this work, it is this guy, who made his cash with his own media company. Join the conversation, Mr. Mayor. Start a blog, dump Facebook, and leave all that "friending" to teenagers.
Mikebloomberg.com is certainly an attractive site, but no blog, and several links go nowhere. Bloomberg could inspire many other mayors to blog. Just a real lost opportunity here.
What can America's mayors -- and any public officials -- learn from the sad fall of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick? The Detroit Free Press lays out the case against America's Worst Mayor. A key moment: When the mayor's text messages were unearthed by the Free Press, revealing he lied on the stand in a lawsuit by city police officers. Then this past week, the Kilpatrick administration circulated a new policy that text messages sent by public employees on city communications equipment can be kept secret, essentially whenever the mayor says so, the Free Press reports, state law and Freedom of Information Act be damned. More here from the Freep:
Maybe the mayor and the city haven't taken enough ribbing from the late-night comics, so Kilpatrick felt compelled to give them some fresh material: "The Detroit mayor whose affair was exposed through text messages has now proclaimed that all city text messages are secret." This is such a joke on its face that there's no need for a punch line.
What's next? How about a new city policy that adultery with a subordinate employee is legal for public officials south of Eight Mile. Or maybe one declaring that any oath taken to tell the truth in a courtroom in Detroit doesn't count.
The Free Press's detailed archive of articles is here.
Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit's 'hip hop mayor,' has put his city through months of salacious controversy, over a slew of lies revealed through his text messages. Here is the latest.
These issues are huge for those in the public sector who dare to blog. One thing Municipalist has never seen addressed: What about the confidentiality of email addresses attached to blog post comments? Comments to blogs often require email addresses, though those are not published. But many bloggers still possess those email addresses, of commenters who expect to be anonymous. They are. Until, for instance, all of those commenter email addresses are subpoened, or requested through a Freedom of Information Act claim, as are filed these days against public officials more and more. What happens to them then?
The Detroit Free Press has been at the forefront of the Kwame Kilpatrick story, breaking big pieces of it day after day. Here is their section of collected reporting. It is fascinating stuff.
Bill Gentes may just be the busiest mayor blogger in America. Serving his second term, the mayor of Round Lake, Illinois blogs almost every single day, and has attracted thousands of comments. The mayor has spoken at a national conference on blogging, and brings plenty of enthusiasm to the task.
"It is the single smartest thing I have ever done as mayor," Gentes told Christopher Swope of Governing.com. "It allows me to control the dialog, it gives me the ability to answer my 18,000 residents' questions in depth, and gives me a way of going over the top of every naysayer and right to the general public."
Round Lake is located 45 miles north of Chicago. Gentes says it is one of the fastest growing communities in Illinois, tripling in size in the last six years. Gentes has served as mayor for nearly seven years.
Why are you blogging? The reason I started to blog is not the reason I blog now, interestingly enough. I started so I could write scholarly essays on the nuts and bolts of being a mayor. Quickly it changed to being a venue for news, notes and opinions on Round Lake. Right now it helps me define issues and provide information unfiltered right to my residents.
What do your constituents think about your blogging? I get 100% positive approval from residents. Not one person in three years has told me they dislike it. I am astounded by who actually reads it. Right now I am at 1,300 unique users a day on average. I can recall when I broke 50 readers I was ecstatic!
They appear, maybe for a few months, maybe for less, then they are gone. Pffft. They are the ghosts of the Internet: Abandoned blogs. And elected officials have contributed their share.
There is this blog from Minneapolis, Minnesota Mayor R.T. Rybak. Last post: May 17, 2005. Then, nothing. No explanation. Rybak did this thing I have seen a couple other public officials do with their blogs: He occasionally set it up as sort of a live bulletin board, where readers would ask questions in the comments section of a single blog post, and Rybak would try and keep up with answering every single one. Through one long night. Clayton Wilcox, the formerly blogging school superintendent in Florida, did this. And it just seemed to be chaos. Some questions got answered, certainly, and it is great that a mayor would sit there for a couple hours and answer questions live, but blogs are not message boards.
And apparently, R.T. is a bit of a serial abandoner. As of today, the rtrybak.com site shouts about the mayor's new year's eve fundraiser. That's new year's eve 2006. ["$100 suggested donation."] Perhaps it is a site put up by supporters, but in his blog R.T. mentions the site as if it were his own. The mayor's attractive and formal but very boring official city Web site is arranged to look like a blog, but it is nothing more than stacked press releases. No blogging here. Though he does offer an option to sign up for an "email update." Helpfully.
One clue to R.T.'s motivations for starting the blog in January 2005 can be found in the first post:
"Thanks for coming by, I'm really excited to dialogue with you about the future of our great City of Minneapolis and my campaign for a second term! This blog is a powerful way for my supporters to organize, share ideas and news, and stay in touch with my day-to-day campaign activities ... " So extremely powerful that I will suddenly abandon the thing when I get bored with it, like Municipalist's 9-month-old otherwise brilliant son, tossing aside a toy which has fascinated him rapturously for the previous seven minutes or so, amid pealing shouts and demands for something new. And colorful. And squishy, if possible.
You can still read the abandoned blog from former Sarasota, Florida City Manager Michael McNees. Last post: May 25, 2007. McNees actually left that job under fire in January 2007. But why leave up the blog? Maybe because McNees won an award for it. So, in his final post, McNees links to his new blog at his new job, county administrator in Blaine County, Idaho, home of Sun Valley. But McNees then proceeds to apparently stop that blog, too. It is just simply gone, except that nothing on the Web is really gone: Here is the cached version. McNees blogged through various controversies in Sarasota, then shortly after he resigned under fire there, his girlfriend decided to run for the seat of the county commissioner who was McNees's nemesis. So much to blog about! We miss you already, Michael. We would email you, but the Blaine County Web site does not bother to even list anything about you or your office, much less your email address.
I am considering starting a category called Abandoned Blogs. Because they are everywhere, folks. Squishy or otherwise.
Rumbling through Northern California Tuesday was the strongest earthquake to hit Northern California since the quake of 1989, which killed 62 people. It turns out that the home of San Jose's mayor was close to the Tuesday quake's epicenter, according to news reports. The complicated technical term for this is a blog opportunity.
Blog opportunity -- A conflux of personal experience with broader news or issue implications. This mayor needs a quick lesson in this. Go to the mayor's site, and there is no blog. Actually, there is no reference whatever to the earthquake. This in the city which calls itself "Capital of Silicon Valley."
(Thankfully, no deaths were reported this time, just a lot of jolted nerves, apparently. But Tuesday's quake has produced 30 aftershockss.)
For inspiration, perhaps the mayor could check out the blog of the San Jose Fire Department. Full of photos, the blog covers a variety of important issues from fire season safety to the dangers of fireworks. One problem: It has not been updated since July 26.
That's a big problem. But again, as with the city's mayor, a stunning blog opportunity has landed in your lap:
By sheer coincidence, the San Jose Fire Department is launching a long-planned series of earthquake drills today to prepare for when the big one hits.
"Basically we practice, 'how do you run a city if the system collapses,' " said Battalion Chief Kevin Conant.
His station, the downtown Station One on Market Street, will be one of many sites today through Friday that will practice the city's official earthquake response plan.
So SJFD already has its own fire department blog, it is readying earthquake drills, and then a real earthquake hits. Blog about it!
Municipalist admits this may be the journalist in him. Or blogger. Nevertheless, these are great opportunities for public officials/employees to explore compelling news and situations from a front row seat. When mainstream media does it, too often it is one step removed. Mayors and fire fighters are not journalists. They don't think this way. Cities the size of San Jose have public information and media relations pros whose job it is to leap when such obvious and important storytelling opportunities present themselves. Admittedly, it may be that earthquakes, seen as shocking events to the rest of us, are but facts of life in California. Either way: Mayor, get your own blog. We want to read it. Your constituents would too. The San Jose Mercury News was basically a leader in the first generation of online newspapers. The city it covers is way behind.
As Municipalist hunts away for examples of decent government-based blogs focusing on the Southern California wildfires, he realizes this: It is a Web 1.0 world out there still for most of these sites. Good local government blogs and sites that push engagement and interactivity are rare. Many of these sites work hard to provide plenty of information. But they are clunky, poorly designed, and too often they ignore including basic tools to encourage participation and information sharing from users. One example is the San Diego County Emergency Homepage, where a decent effort has been made to update citizens on evacuations, etc., but the whole thing seems stuck in some late '90s context. Meaning: Lots of stuff to click to and read. Stacks of PDF files and Word (!) documents that can be printed out.
But are there any places where readers themselves can contribute and share information, or have discussions, or have their questions answered by experts? Nope.
A section called "Breaking News Briefs" is slightly like a blog, but posts are not detailed enough. And no comments. And no way to search, say, for info on my town or neighborhood or address. Google Maps are made use of, and that is a great idea. But the best sites across the Web of today are figuring out how to tap into the knowledge of users. The efforts of many countless municipal, state, and federal employees in Southern California have been heroic, no doubt. But this site fails to get the job done.
Similarly, the site of San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders is packed with plenty of PDF files to download. Get a blog, Jerry. It's a great way to build a dialogue with your city.
Municipalist is confident that good government blogs are out there focusing on the fire. The hunt continues.
The Los Angeles Fire Department posted frequent updates and information like tips for donating to the fire victims on Twitter. More than 800 photos of the wildfires are available to view on Flickr.com, and San Diego’s TV station News 8 replaced its original site with a rolling news blog linking to YouTube videos of its key reports and Google Maps
Damien Blake, 25, a town councillor in Letterkenny, Ireland, writes a compelling blog filled with analysis of important local and national issues. Damien was that town's youngest councillor when elected in 2004, and last year served as mayor.
He has been active in working to push his political party, Fianna Fail, to be more Internet active. (More about Damien's party, Ireland's largest, here.)
As it happened, Damien was on his way this week to Boston and Washington, D.C. as part of an exchange program looking at the U.S. government and political system. Sitting in an airport waiting for a flight to the U.S., Damien consented to tell Municipalist more about his work and about the role of blogging among local and national office holders in Ireland:
How long have you been blogging?
I'm blogging since roughly June 2005, a few weeks before my term as Mayor began (Mayors in Ireland are elected from the Town/City Councillors for a one year term). At the time, no other Irish councillor was using blogging (beyond uploading press releases.)
I work in web design, so always believed that the web could be useful for both campaigning and for working as a politician. Blogging makes every part of that easier and better. Good blog platforms make posting updates really easy, it can be done in the short gaps between meetings from a cell phone if needed. I really love the interactivity, the way that every post on different blogs helps make the wider network stronger, by building links and connections and extending debate.
Some active Irish bloggers were really helpful at the start. James from Eirepreneur, at http://eirepreneur.blogspot.com/; Simon from tuppenceworth.ie; and Mick from SluggerOToole.com were really helpful early on. It was Damien Mulley from mulley.net who persuaded me to take the leap and open the comments on the blog, something no other politician was doing at the time. These guys really inspired me in the early days, and showed how effective blogging could be.
What has blogging accomplished for you?
Blogging has really helped me on a number of levels. On a local level, it helps show the wide range of work being done at a local council level without being fed through the local radio and newspapers. Local people in Letterkenny have left comments that have directed the way we look at policy on the council, and I appreciate getting the opportunity to go into detail on why some decisions were taken (some articles are over 1,000 words, approaching 2,000).
On a wider level, blogging has given me access to journalists on a national level. Posts from the blog have led to articles in many of Ireland's top newspapers, including the two top daily broadsheet newspapers. I have been interviewed on all Ireland's national radio stations, again coming from journalists picking up items on the blog. I was Mayor of a mid-sized town, and the blog raised not only my profile as a politician, but also allowed some of the work we do here in Letterkenny to get wider acknowledgement.
Blogging has introduced me to a wide range of people and a wide range of opinions. The support of other bloggers has been of great help.
Do you hear from constituents? What do they think of your blog?
Constituents comment on articles that they find relevant, although most comments come in through email rather than directly to the site. Blogging is not as main-stream in Ireland as it is in the USA, so many people are not familiar with the opportunities for discussion that a blog offers. Posts on local policing, planning and infrastructure are most popular for comments.
Are other elected/appointed office holders in Ireland/Europe doing this?
There are many now, in particular in the run up to the last General Election here in Ireland in May '07. I helped some candidates put together websites based around blogs. My favourite is Dara Calleary, a TD from Mayo.
Do you recommend blogging to other office holders, council members, mayors, etc.?
Definitely. For very little time overhead you can build a really strong connection with your local community. I write about subjects that aren't being covered on other websites, and local people react to that. It is good for organising thoughts; blogging is much more natural than writing press releases, and it allows me to figure out my position on complex issues. And it lets your constituents know that you're working for them. Not everyone reads the local papers!
************** 11/01/07 UPDATE: Damien's visit to the U.S. sponsored by the Irish Institute at Boston College had quite an impact on him. Read about it here. A fellow participant offers some fascinating views on the U.S. here.
Federal Computer Week "The blog is an expansive collection of posts about government’s use of Web 2.0 at the federal, state and local levels, and it is worth a look for the contacts and projects lists alone."
Personal Democracy Forum "If you haven't yet, check out Craig Colgan's Municipalist blog which claims it is 'Fearlessly investigating the dark and mysterious world of public sector blogging.' And indeed it is, with over two-dozen profiles of public sector bloggers. I didn't even know there were that many!"
Slate "Municipalist, a blogger who blogs about, um, blogging, ..."