A laptop is what got Essex Town selectboard member Bruce Post in trouble last May, revealing a cultural/digital divide that took several weeks to work out in this bustling town of 20,000 in northern Vermont.
… he didn’t think twice when he brought his laptop to a selectboard work session and then took it into the actual meeting that followed to take more notes.
But that prompted an onlooker to question the propriety of having the laptop open during the meeting, and in a “point of order” discussion, Board Chairwoman Linda Myers ruled that using the laptop violated board rules on digital devices though in fact the rule only applied to handheld devices.
… five members of the Burlington City Council now “live tweet” when the city council meets (fully a third of the council), says Ed Adrian, a Democrat who represents Ward I.
“I think people have been really supportive for the most part,” says Adrian, who works as an attorney with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office. With people having busy lives, tweets are a way for him to inform his constituents, most of whom can’t make it to evening meetings.
He says the biggest digital impact on city government in Burlington, though, is the use of the social media/email newsletter, Front Porch Forum.
“By far that’s the most important media tool I use,” he says…
Founded by Michael Wood-Lewis and his wife Valerie in Burlington in 2006, it now is available in more than 60 Vermont towns… and 28,000 members, says Wood-Lewis.
He has definitely seen an increase in local officials using FPF to communicate, noting there are now more than 450 members counted as local officials, and probably a lot more who don’t list their official titles. He guesses perhaps half of the forums now feature postings of meeting agendas and town announcements sort of a virtual country store poster wall.
While services like Twitter and FPF are clearly beneficial in passing along town information, they raise some gray areas. During a vibrant discussion last mud season on FPF about rough road conditions in the town of Calais, selectboard members wondered whether to get involved in responding, and whether if they did, they were speaking for the town or themselves?
Wood-Lewis says FPF is good for distributing information and for asking questions or prompting discussion but thinks “it’s not ideal for trying to resolve challenging local issues, ” which should be done in face-to-face meetings.