Seeking public input on local issues should be a high priority for the Lawrence City Commission.
To that end city officials provide many opportunities for people to let commissioners know their opinions on various issues. Lawrence residents can write a letter or send an email or even come to the meeting and address the commissioners face to face. They should not expect to be able to express their opinions to commissioners through Twitter in the middle of City Commission meetings.
Commissioner Jeremy Farmer got a luke-warm reception to his suggestion last week that commissioners find a way to accommodate and consider comments submitted — both with names and anonymously — on Twitter during regular commission meetings. He suggested that the city might even consider adding a large computer monitor in the commission meeting room to allow a stream of comments from Twitter users to be visible to commissioners and others attending the meetings. Accommodating Twitter, Farmer reasoned, might broaden the city’s outreach perhaps to include a demographic — presumably a younger demographic — of people who don’t frequently offer feedback on commission business.
We’re all for open government, but allowing Twitter users to offer their comments to commissioners during a public meeting would be roughly equivalent to allowing people in the commission room to jump up and shout out their comments whenever the spirit moves them. It would be disruptive to the meeting and a huge distraction to those trying to conduct the business of the city.
Mayor Mike Dever suggested that rather than having Tweets projected as they are posted, the city might want to “filter” the messages and present a summary of them at some point in the meeting. That might be less disruptive, but who would decide which Tweets are worth mentioning to the commissioners, and at what point in the discussion would that information be at all useful?
As noted above, local residents have many good options when it comes to offering guidance to their elected city officials. City ordinances and most other major city decisions are considered at more than one meeting, giving residents the opportunity to voice their opinion after an initial commission discussion but before final action is taken.
Twitter can be a useful communication tool for friends, government officials, businesses and, yes, even journalists. However, there is a time and place for everything, and City Commission meetings are not the right time or place for officials to monitor and respond to people in the Twittersphere.