There has been a lot made about social media during my four years on the council and three as mayor. When I first went to a council meeting, it was because I was upset about an ordinance that was passed specifically for my neighborhood without people in the neighborhood knowing. When I asked why that was the case, I was told that I should have attended the meeting. It was a fair enough answer, but I thought I could make a contribution to the community if I were on the council. Since getting on the council, and especially since becoming mayor, I have consistently tried to inform our residents about what is happening in local government before we make those decisions. For the most part, reactions have been overwhelmingly positive from residents throughout the city. Our constituents are plugged into what is happening in their local government more than most cities, and I receive consistent positive feedback from an overwhelming majority of people. Informing our citizens about what the council is doing ahead of time and throughout these processes has given our residents and businesses an opportunity to have a greater voice in our local government. There have been countless times I have posted an agenda or blog post on Facebook and consequently received helpful feedback that has directly impacted city policy.
In the past, there may have been occasional news articles about something going on during our council meetings, but for most of our council’s history, city business has been conducted in relative anonymity. Most of our meetings are not very exciting, and people generally don’t attend. When I started posting agendas, city updates, and causes I am working toward, there was a new scrutiny placed on what we were doing at city hall. To say there have been growing pains would be an understatement. I have heard more than once that city business does not belong on social media, and if people want to have a voice they should attend meetings. The turmoil on the council stemming from differences on how social media should be used has been one of the hardest things to deal with in my time as Mayor.
There is a line in our city code of ordinances that deals with chairing our meetings. It reads, “The chairman shall be impartial and conduct the meetings in a fair manner.” When I started informing a large amount of people about what is happening at city hall and advocating for specific changes, push back came in the form of trying to silence me. The argument was made by our two most senior council members that I should not be allowed to voice my opinion during council meetings or on social media because of the clause referenced above. Those attempts failed when I did not relent and we received legal opinions that would not support taking away my voice, but the divide on our council has been very present. I truly believe every one of our council loves the city and want what is best for our residents. I see it all the time in their service both on the council, and volunteering for various events. This one issue has been particularly polarizing within our city government and weighed on me throughout my term as mayor. Because I strongly believe in informing everyone about what we are doing and attaining feedback from residents, I have settled on continuing utilizing social media tools while learning from mistakes I make.
Speaking of mistakes… The downside of being so open and transparent is there is a greater amount of scrutiny on all of us at city hall. The mistakes I personally make are extremely public and open to an enormous amount of scrutiny. It’s sometimes a heavy price to pay. Recently, when I tried to do what I thought was the right thing with the 1890’s Days accounting, it made the problem blow up in a way that I did not anticipate. Some of the concerns that had been brought up to me about using social media were proven to be justified, and that was an incredibly hard learning experience. Learning from my mistakes is essential in using social media an a way that benefits Ringgold and brings honor to the office of mayor. The added attention has also been felt by other members of my board who have had to cope with a constituency that is much more informed and consequently more opinionated on a variety of issues. I have undoubtedly made my job and the job of my council harder by involving a large amount of people in the process of government. Having said all of that, the good exponentially outweighs the bad. I truly feel I have been able to tap into the expertise throughout the community and bring those thoughts and ideas to the table during our council meetings.
I am always available through messenger or through the phone at 423-653-7446 if you would like to talk about this issue or any other.