The Path to Transparency: Costa Mesa Discovers Social Media

One week into its top-dollar investment in a communications director and the city of Costa Mesa now has its own (active) Twitter and Facebook accounts. Congratulations, you're now where most of America was in 2008.

Okay, that may have been a bit harsh a critique of Costa Mesa and William Lobdell's attempt at creating “the most transparent city in the nation.” Plenty of people sign up for the social networking sites and never put them to use. As of right now, Costa Mesa has created a fine aggregation site, completely devoid of any commentary or substance.
A work in progress, we assume.


“We're excited to join the social media revolution and begin engaging in digital dialogues about Costa Mesa,” Lobdell wrote in a press release which announced the social media initiative. Lobdell did not respond to messages from the Weekly.
It's difficult to have a digital dialogue, or any dialogue, without the ability for back-and-forth interaction. That's sort of the definition of “dialogue.” As of Tuesday afternoon, the Facebook page did not allow outsider posts, but did provide links to choice news articles, and the Twitter page only showed interaction with city-run programs. (Costa Mesa's Twitter account [@CityofCostaMesa] is actually more than a year old, but it had sat inactive since May 2010.)
Maybe it's a slow roll out of communication. Explanation of the cities' financial peril, disclosure for why outsourcing city jobs makes sense, and why the city manager title has been changed to CEO can certainly be saved for a later time.
Not everyone in city hall believes that the $200,000 investment in a communications consultancy package, which includes $50,000 for a website revamp, is the answer to the cities' problems. 
Council member Wendy Leece has been among the most outspoken opponents of the direction of Costa Mesa's attempt for better communication. In various media reports, Leece has indicated she doesn't believe social media and a new website are the answer, instead, she has said that increased communication in council meetings and interaction with residents would better serve the matter.
The website revamp, which will include access to various city documents, should be unveiled in the coming months.
Considering the cities' recent history–laying off one-third of its workforce, a suicide off city hall, a public upset with its mayor over his lack of compassion and the attention of the national media–it would seem that the path to transparency and improved communication is still lacking.

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