Keeping his promise to make government more transparent to the public, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh has instituted new communication technology at City Hall.
Walsh has been looking to alter municipal government to align with modern culture since he has been in office. One of the recent changes Walsh announced is the addition of video conferencing to City Hall, which should facilitate effective communication and governance in this increasingly inter-connected world.
“The videoconferencing was part of an overall upgrade to telephone technology in the Mayor’s Office at City Hall,” said Kate Norton, the mayor’s press secretary. “Previously, the phones did not have voice mail, so the primary change was to address that issue.”
The previous decision to not install voicemail in City Hall under former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, now the co-director of the Initiative on Cities at Boston University, was motivated more by philosophical reasons than anything else.
“The former mayor’s thought process was when you call City Hall you should always get a live person,” said City Councilor Timothy McCarthy.
McCarthy respectfully disagreed with Menino’s philosophy in that regard, citing the efficiency of voicemail.
“I still believe when you call city hall you should speak to somebody live and not be instantly changed to a voicemail, but when you want to leave somebody a message, it’s easier for the staff member or whoever’s manning the phone at those times,” he said. “You can get an in-depth and precise message and possibly do research to answers those questions before you call that person back.”
This increased emphasis on the use of technology in city government marks a departure from Menino’s philosophy. This emphasis is becoming a hallmark of Walsh’s administration. This is something Walsh is keen on establishing given the legacy of his predecessor, Boston’s longest-serving mayor.
“The Mayor has made increased transparency a priority in his approach for the Administration,” Norton said in an email. “To that end, he has used technology as a tool to directly engage with constituents through Twitter chats, Facebook Q&A sessions and an upcoming Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’ planned for later this month.”
In addition, the mayor’s office maintains a 24-hour hotline for citizens to report any potential problems that need to be addressed by city government and offers a mobile app for iOS and Android.
McCarthy, whose 5th District includes Roslindale and Hyde Park, supports Walsh’s consistent use of social media. He sees it as an effective way to get people more involved and interested in municipal government, especially the issues that affect them personally.
Massachusetts Rep. Brian Ashe, who served in the State House with Walsh, said the increased use of social media is great in terms of including younger generations in government.
“There are so many different forms of media, especially that the younger people use,” he said. “Marty and his team have done a fantastic job at really making sure they hit every segment of the population, including all the younger people.”
Many residents said they are happy with the mayor implementing communication technology and said it will help the public be more personal with those who represent them.
“The whole point of government is to represent the people,” said Claudia Brashears, 59, of Dorchester. “Clearly, communication between the people and the officials is necessary. So this is good that it’s promoting that.”
David Steinberg, 39, of Boston, said the more communication tools between the government and the public the better.
“It can be really hard getting through to government officials,” he said. “Making it possible to us to leave them voicemails and reach out to them through places that make it easy to get a quick response, like Facebook, will hopefully make that better.”