Can Social Networking Change the Outcome of the Township Budget?

I have only been out of the country for a little over 24 hours, go to turn on my computer and discover that social networking in the form of an ePetition is now in place in Tredyffrin.  The ePetition has been created to help reverse the tides over the fire company’s 5% cut in contributions contained in the recently approved draft 2010 township budget.  If you support the reinstatement of the fire company contribution, you are asked to sign the online ePetition.  I would encourage you to read the ePetition even if you are unsure about adding your signature.  And if you do support the reinstatement of the 5% cut, you are asked to forward it to your township neighbors and friends.

I am fascinated by the use of social networking in this manner.  Recently, a group of Tredyffrin Easttown School District parents banded together to oppose the elimination of the FLES (Foreign Language Elementary School) program in the 2010-11 budget and created an online ePetition to support their cause.  (I included the link to the FLES ePetition in an earlier posting).  Although the FLES program is on the budget chopping block, do you think the ePetition can make a difference?  I just checked their petition and since November 11, 630+ people have signed the petition to save the FLES program in the school district.  Is that a significant number to make a difference to the School Board directors?  What about the fire company . . . do you think that the ePetition can help reinstate their contribution loss?

It is interesting that the empowerment and transparency characteristics of social computing initiatives may be able to disrupt existing power balances.  The sharing of information by the crowd enables citizens to hold public officials to account. Social computing offers an effective means of mobilizing support, disseminating information and providing advice on specific issues. Online, people seem to come together around specific issues, where they can enhance their knowledge by the wisdom of the crowd, so to speak.  I see this in the comments that people share on my blog, Community Matters and also in the online dialogue of John Petersen’s blog, Tredyffrin Township Political NetworkWho knows the future influence of social networking? 

Signing the ePetition on behalf of the Berwyn, Radnor and Paoli fire fighters shows the mobilization and support of the community and the individual citizens.  It will be exciting see how many of our residents will sign the petition before December 21 Board of Supervisor Meeting, and more exciting to it can evoke change!

As I See It from a Tredyffrin Resident

There has been much discussion concerning Supervisor Bob Lamina’s As I See It article  in this week’s Main Line Suburban newspaper. In my opinion, sitting Supervisors have to be very careful of public criticism of residents, either in public meeting or as this case, in written form in a newspaper.  I support freedom of speech but I stand firm that supervisors were elected to represent all the people, regardless if the citizens opinion is in opposition of their own.  Whether it is reading Supervisor Lamina’s article in the paper or reflecting on the behavior of some of the supervisors towards citizens at the last two Board of Supervisors meetings, we do have to wonder if they want to know what we think?  Do they believe that they should do our thinking?

Most people are aware of the form of censorship defined by the American Library Association as “the removal of material from open access by government authority.” But there are other not so blatant forms of censorship, which can be just as damaging to the free and public exchange of ideas so crucial in a democratic society.

These forms of censorship occur through unofficial government actions usually by individual officials and their supporters. Two of the most common methods of this subtle form of censorship are the demonization of people who dare speak against the status quo, and the marginalization of ideas contrary to those supported by government officials.

These types of censorship are not always easy to spot and are not necessarily the result of any thoughtful process by the official. In fact, they are just as likely to be the result of an emotional unthinking reaction. However, demonization and marginalization constitute a very real form of censorship because they inhibit and discourage citizen participation in our local government.

Attempts at censorship and control of citizens opinions by our elected officials harm us all. Personally, I am glad that we have local citizens who care enough about Tredyffrin to offer comments, ask questions and share their community ideas that can improve our local government (for all the community) not just the politically connected.  Likewise, I want to believe that our elected officials value the opinions of the entire community. We know they did on election day.