Embracing technology matters for public service

In today’s Kerrville Daily Times article titled, “Internet media could impact city election,” author John Sniffen wrote that one of the candidates — Gary Cooper for Place 3 — stated that he sees no need to have a website or use social media.

Cooper was quoted: “I do use email, but even then I print out my messages so I can answer them and stay organized… If I had a Facebook page, I probably would not use it or check it often enough for it to be effective. Even if I was running for office in Houston, I probably would not use social media.”

What’s so wrong with that?

We live in the information age. Most consumers receive their news online. According to a recent Pew Research study, 43% of Americans report getting their news online. Television is even higher, with 50% receiving their news from that source (but of course Kerrville has no local television news station). Only 25% receive their news from radio and only 18% find it in printed newspapers. And it’s not just younger voters getting their news online. For those aged 65+, 30% get their news online.

In another Pew Research study, roughly two-thirds of adults (68%) use Facebook, and roughly three-quarters of those visit Facebook on a daily basis.

Social media and online news is where the conversations are happening. Fewer and fewer voters of all demographics are receiving their information through “traditional” sources such as TV and printed newspaper. And in Kerrville, we don’t have any local television news reporting, so a large percentage of Kerrville voters are receiving their news and political information online, and online only.

When a candidate for local office rejects all types of online outreach, he is cutting himself off from a vast majority of eligible voters in our city.

The question that comes to my mind is: Why? Why would you refuse to even host a simple website to introduce yourself and explain your position on the issues? Even if you can’t find the time or resources to host a polished social media presence, why not use the platform to engage in other ways, such as by answering voters questions, participating in the comments sections, or sharing articles that represent your views? With campaigns that spend thousands of dollars on traditional media such as newspaper ads, why not spend $100 on Squarespace or Wix to get you a cheap and good-looking website? Or hire a WordPress guy for $400 to put one up for you?

Hosting a simple website is easier than ever. Every single other competitive candidate hosted a website, including Mayor Bonnie White, challenger Bill Blackburn, and Cooper’s opponent Judy Eychner. Even Delayne Sigerman, running unopposed for Place 4, has a website and discusses her background and her platform. By refusing to host even a simple one-page website, a social media profile, or other online presence, many voters will not have the opportunity to be introduced to a candidate like Cooper.

Of the four candidates competing for office in this election (thus, not unopposed), only two of them have an active social media presence: Bill Blackburn and Judy Eychner. On each of those pages, hundreds of voters read messages from the candidates, ask them questions, and interact with them on a daily basis.

Political candidates up and down the political spectrum use websites and social media constantly. Obviously statewide and national candidates have numerous social media platforms that are used on an almost hourly basis to communicate with constituencies and to interact with voters and supporters.

One may say, well, the voters should attend a candidate forum or other event to hear from the candidates directly. I agree! But not all are inclined to do so, and many don’t have the time to attend in person. And since no one was allowed to videotape the forums, there is no way for those folks to access information about the candidates who don’t already have an online presence.

What about newspapers? The Kerrville Daily Times has a circulation of about 10,000, according to an employee intimately familiar with those numbers. There are 18,000+ registered voters in the City of Kerrville. So even if every single newspaper is going to a registered voter, and those 10,000 voters read it every day, that would leave over 8,000 registered voters without access to news and information about the candidates. And we wonder why voter turnout is so low?

Recently the City of Kerrville adopted an electronic agenda system. Beginning earlier this year, all city council agendas and packets with supporting information are delivered to council members electronically rather than in paper format, reducing waste and increasing productivity of staff members. These support packets are often hundreds of pages in length. By converting to this electronic system, the city saves tremendous costs and wasted resources, and contributes to the conservation of our natural resources. But if a candidate is not well-versed and comfortable with email and online navigation of these types of documents, he or she will not be well-prepared at the council meetings, and is therefore unqualified to represent the citizens.

The bottom line, to me, is this… We need courageous leaders who will tackle the issues of our city, but at the same time, leaders who are able to make the best use of all available technologies and communications platforms to increase their productivity, connect with the voters, and to stay up-to-date on the best practices for the delivery of city services to its citizens. If a candidate cannot at least attempt to do those things, he or she should not be elected to lead a community of our size and stature.

Luckily for us, we have three candidates on the ballot that have and will do these things: Bill Blackburn, Judy Eychner, and Delayne Sigerman.