Port Orchard ponders creating Facebook fan page

As membership in the social networking site Facebook grows exponentially each month, municipalities and businesses seek to use the technology to generate funds and provide services.

The city of Port Orchard is poised to take a slice of the social networking pie, with Mayor Lary Coppola advocating the idea of creating a city-sponsored “fan page” to communicate with the public.

“I recently put up a fan page for myself and immediately got more than 400 responses,” Coppola, who has hosted a personal Facebook page for more than a year. “This is a great way to let everyone know what I’m doing on a particular day and to stay in touch with people.”

The difference between a fan page and a standard Facebook page is quantity and access.

In order to become a Facebook “friend” someone must be accepted by the host. And no one can have more than 5,000 friends.

Fans have no such restriction.

Anyone can become a fan of any page, and content is accessible by any Facebook member.

The fan base is not restricted to a certain number. This is a natural forum for any politician, and many local elected officials and candidates participate.

Coppola’s fan page now has 440 fans, while he has 727 friends.

With regard to a Facebook page individuals act on their own and are responsible for its content, but the idea of a municipally sponsored page is a little more complicated.

For example, a fan page for the city of Port Orchard will be subject to public records requests and cannot be controlled by a single individual.

So when Coppola made his pitch at a city council retreat last week, no council member actually supported the idea.

Officially, the council instructed staff to determine the guidelines for a municipally sponsored page and what disclosure requirements will govern the process.

Aside from Coppola, only two council members have Facebook pages.

Fred Chang uses his page for personal reasons and does not accept city-related friend requests, and Jerry Childs (250 friends) has several government-related friends but does not discuss issues online.

Chang said he has received advice to not friend any other council members, since it could violate public meeting statutes.

Some other council members are less enamored of the technology.

Fred Olin said “there is no way in hell that I would ever get a Facebook page,” and Carolyn Powers suggests the idea be placed in the long-term goal category so that “we discuss it in about 10 years.”

“I think we can just let the mayor do what he wants on his own page,” Olin said, “and the city isn’t responsible for it.”

City Attorney Greg Jacoby said that wasn’t entirely true, since any official business is subject to public scrutiny no matter where it is located.

“If you have city business on your hard disk at home and there is a lawsuit, your personal disk could be subject to a subpoena,” Jacoby said.

The council instructed City Clerk Patti Kirkpatrick to research the matter and talk to other local municipalities with official Facebook pages to determine how disclosure questions are handled.

Another one of Coppola’s technology recommendations, to stop printing council agenda packets in favor of electric versions to be accessed by a terminal, also met with council resistance.

Several council members said they understood the need to save paper, but often made notes on the hard copies of documents in order to determine discussion points.

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