Danedri Thompson
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City staff will likely create a city of Gardner fan page on Facebook. City council members debated the merits of using social media to inform citizens during a work session on Nov. 8.

Assistant City Administrator Melissa Mundt said staff has been gathering information about using social media as an additional form of communication since 2008, but recent layoffs have stymied the research.

The city currently uses a variety of methods to communicate with residents including the city’s newsletter, Utility news mailed with bills, a website, and through constant contact email blasts.

The newsletter, Inside Gardner, is the city’s most widely-used tool, Mundt said.

“The newsletter is very important,” Mundt said. “It’s a real value to the residents. They like having something to sit down and read.”

The newsletter is mailed to everyone in the 66030 zip code six times each year, and according to the city survey, 71 percent of residents get city information from the newsletter.

She said the website, www.gardnerkansas.gov, averages about 9,000 unique hits per month and 1,500 hits each day.

However, the addition of a social media outlet could allow two-way communication. She said users can comment and get responses from city staff via the Facebook page.

Quick response, monitoring a Facebook page and training staff to use the social media would require additional staff time, Mundt said.

“To develop unique information is a problem. That’s not something we have the staffing to do,” Mundt said.

That’s one reason council hasn’t been asked to approve a Facebook page to date.

She said the parks department would likely benefit greatest with a Facebook page. They could announce game cancellations quickly with one.

Mayor Dave Drovetta said given the staff time required, he didn’t think there was a way to do it at this time. However, city council member Kristina Harrison said the city of Edgerton has a blog and uses Twitter with far fewer staff.

“Edgerton’s doing it,” she said.

Drovetta responded that Edgerton staff once also sent an erroneous email about BNSF to everyone on its contact list and then followed that email blast with a personal apology to BNSF staff that it sent to everyone on its contact list.

Drovetta and other council members also worried a chat function could lead to questionable content on the city’s Facebook page.

“If we do it, we can’t allow chat,” Drovetta said. “…My concern is if we do this we’re going to create greater dissatisfaction because we weren’t responding.

We have certain individuals who monopolize staff time… It’s a time thing.”
City Administrator Stewart Fairburn said the page could be a one-way communication tool without a chat function.

However, Mundt said that’s not the preferred way to handle a city Facebook page. Without the chat function, it simply mirrors the city website.

“The Facebook thing – that’s an opportunity to interact,” Mundt said.

Patron Chris Morrow told council members Facebook is a good way to open the city up to people who might not otherwise pay attention, and council member Harrison agreed.

“This is just another way,” she said. “It’s a tool that doesn’t cost anything.”

Council members directed city staff to bring a proposal to council for consideration that would include a Facebook fan page without a chat function. Mundt warned that a Facebook page without two-way interaction would be weak.

“We want to do the best we can, but we have restraints,” council member Steve Hale said. “Our resources are limited and we have to be careful about staff time.”

Drovetta cautioned council members not to engage constituents on Facebook. He said they could potentially violate sunshine laws if a quorum of council members comment on the same issue.

Although the courts have yet to rule on Sunshine Laws and social media, “we don’t want to be the test case,” he said.

In other business, council members:

• discussed a new proposal to change city truck routes. Council originally discussed potential truck routes during a Sept. 15 meeting, but tabled the proposed routes due to school district concerns about using Waverly Road as a truck route. Council will address a new truck route proposal on Nov. 15. The proposal designates Center Street south of Gardner Road, 167th Street between Moonlight and Center Streets, Main Street, Moonlight Road north of Main, Old Highway 56, and 175th Street between Interstate 35 and the east city limits as truck routes.

• discussed proposed revisions for tighter restrictions on parking on residential streets.