All you "Tweeps" out there concerned about Mesa: Get your typing fingers ready because Mayor Scott Smith is taking his Twitter Town Hall meetings into prime time.
Smith will answer questions submitted by residents via Twitter, #AskSmith, between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6 on live TV on Mesa Channel 11 or live Web stream on www.mesachannel11.com.
Although Smith has held prior Twitter Town Halls, this will be the first one held at night. The others were held during lunchtime. Usually, nighttime is reserved for Smith’s conventional town halls held in person in local communities.
Smith hopes the evening time frame will attract even more participants.
"This is the first time we’ve combined the prime time town hall that I normally give in person with the Twitter Town Hall," Smith said to the Tribune. "So we’re going to see how it goes when we take Twitter questions during the dinner hour."
Smith said the previous Twitter Town Halls have been a success, with plenty of questions and commentary to keep each hour full.
"We had very, very good response. We never ran out of questions. They were good questions," Smith said.
Smith said the limited scope of Twitter adds an advantage to the interaction over conventional town hall meetings.
"When you (hold town halls in person), people make statements, rather than ask questions and other people dominate the discussion and others feel reluctant to speak up," Smith said. "And, yet, in Twitter, everyone’s on equal footing, you get right to the point and nobody feels like they are second-rate, second-class citizens. And so you get really good straight-forward questions."
Smith said the format of Mesa’s Twitter Town Hall is unique because not only will viewers get the benefits of a live Twitter conversation — watching the questions appear as they’re asked — but Smith will be present, live on the program to answer them verbally.
"I’m not aware of any other place where they do it like we do, where it’s a real-time Twitter question, then I answer it as though the question had been asked at a regular town hall," Smith said.
Smith said the goal of the Twitter Town Hall is "access. We want the citizens of Mesa to know what’s happening in their city. We want them to feel like we’re accessible as servants, public servants, and that they can ask us whatever question is important to them."
Of course with live TV, there is plenty that can go wrong. But city spokeswoman Melissa Randazzo, who along with Chief of Staff Kathy Macdonald, accepts the questions and presents them to the mayor and show host Lily King-Cisneros, said there have not been any notable bloopers or missteps.
"With live TV you always run that risk and that’s what makes it really exciting for us, but we haven’t had that moment," Randazzo said.
One only has to watch his or her own Twitter account to see the vitriol that is often spewed between the anonymous participants, especially in political conversations, but Randazzo said the Mesa discussions have been civil, even when critical statements are posted, which are also addressed on the show.
"We have had some (posts) that are critical of … a certain project or certain process and we address those but nothing outright hateful or inappropriate," Randazzo said.
The only editing the crew does is consolidating repeat questions or shortening long questions. Smith said his favorite questions are those that trickle in during the broadcast.
"There is no hiding in a Twitter Town Hall, which I really enjoy," Smith said.
Twitter also has its limitations. Questions or comments can only be 140 characters. But Smith said the limit has not affected the quality of the conversations during the broadcast.
"It’s amazing how deep of a question can be asked in a hundred-and-forty characters or less," he said.
Officials say the project is not meant to substitute conventional town halls or other opportunities to interact with government but it helps the mayor’s office reach a new audience.
"I think it’s a new segment of the population we’re reaching," Randazzo said. "Not everyone goes out to a standard town hall in a neighborhood or comes out to a neighborhood meeting, so this is just a way to reach out to that segment of the community that’s online pretty much all the time."
Despite the different venue and possibly different demographic — there’s really no way to know because Twitter users often have anonymous handles — Randazzo said the concerns are often the same as those of residents who prefer to contact the mayor through more conventional means.
"I think it’s a different crowd, but it’s interesting that it’s a lot of the same questions," Randazzo said. "It shows that residents have a lot of similarities.
"They may communicate differently or they may get their information differently but they have a lot of the same questions and concerns about Mesa and the projects we have going on."
Don’t have a Twitter account? No worries. Not only are they free, but questions can also be submitted by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the mayor’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/MayorScottSmith. Questions can also be submitted via telephone by calling (480) 644-3002. Both pre-submitted and real-time questions are accepted.
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