Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Sosa: Outreach via Facebook, 'bimbling'


If you see Haines Borough Manager David Sosa wandering the streets of town, feel free to approach him and tell him what’s on your mind.

Sosa said at his town hall meeting last week that “bimbling about” town several days a week is one of his outreach strategies for engaging with the public during the work day.

“I stop in with businesses. I’ll chat with people on the street. I’ll harass my neighbors and I just try to make myself available. It gets me out of the office – I like that – but I do my level-headed best to get out of the office so I can be available to people,” Sosa said.

Sosa’s presentation at the Sheldon Museum drew more than 50 people. It focused on the borough’s methods of communication with the public and resources residents can use to access information about what is going on in their government.

Sosa also unveiled the borough’s new Facebook page, to some criticism. Since its creation, the page has been used to post photos of a dispatcher working at 2 a.m., Sosa picking up trash, an employee making sure garbage cans are operational, and other random goings-on in the borough.

During a question-and-answer portion of the meeting, residents questioned Sosa’s decision to use the traditionally interactive social media site as a one-way communication, as Sosa said he would use the site to push information out, not take it in.

Resident Dave Nanney asked if users could comment on the page, perhaps starting a conversation thread with others on a borough-related topic that might churn up some bright ideas.

Sosa acknowledged individuals are technically able to comment, but said he wouldn’t be reading the Facebook page’s comments, nor would he be responding to them. “I just want to be honest with people. I’d be lying to you if I said, ‘Yup, I am going to be there. I am going to read it. I am going to use this as one of my major sources of information from the public.’ I’m not going to do that at this time,” Sosa said.

Rhys Williams said while he understood why Sosa and other borough staff don’t have the time to respond to Facebook comments, he bristled at Sosa’s statement that he wasn’t even going to read them.

“You guys don’t have to engage in a dialogue. But your statement of if (someone) comments on there, you’re not going to read it, that totally jars me,” Williams said. “I would like to know that if I posted a comment on there, I don’t expect a response from you, but I would surely like to know that someone in the borough was attentive enough to my comment to read it.”

Sosa said he would rather use the page to solely disseminate information rather than take in public comments because the site can quickly devolve into “another tool for people to fight.”

“What will likely occur is that people will get into heated conversations on a public forum and as has happened with other communities the site will have to be shut down. And I don’t want that to happen,” he said.

Sosa also fielded some criticism from the audience on how the borough has handled public participation. Chamber of Commerce executive director Debra Schnabel said she was frustrated and concerned about policy development in the borough, especially how it seems staff are “telling us how it is going to be” instead of taking input from the public first and shaping policy from there.

“It doesn’t feel sometimes like the people who are outside of the power structure have any good ideas at all. That we aren’t able to impact, influence and effect a change,” she said.

Resident Gershon Cohen suggested conducting semi-regular polls of the public when big issues arise, so public opinion can drive policy rather than staff or a few committees and boards.

“Before the bureaucracy or however you want to define it comes up with, ‘Well, these are the potential solutions we are looking at,’ I would like to see the public be polled in some general way,” Cohen said.

Sosa said staff is looking into conducting a survey, though it is unclear what form that survey will take, how many issues it will address, and other elements.

Resident George Figdor pointed to the formal set up of board and committee meetings as counterproductive to two-way communication. “My concern is that the public participation is not going to change unless you change the structures of those meetings, because the meetings are set up as ‘we’ and ‘them.’ It’s not a dialogue,” Figdor said.

The meeting’s conversation also turned to the small boat harbor expansion project. “From my perspective, I think it’s important to go ahead with the development we have planned,” Sosa said of the project’s existing design, which includes adding 2.75 acres of parking to the existing parking lot for a total of about four acres.

When asked why he supported the project, Sosa said the expanded harbor would serve the needs of the existing fleet, meet projected future needs, and provide sufficient protection of the existing harbor. He also said he has been walking down to the harbor on weekends for the past month and taking pictures of the parking lot, which is “chock-a-block full.”

Resident Dena Selby asked if plans for the expanded parking lot had been firmly decided.

“Right now we are moving forward,” Sosa said. “What we are looking at right now is a plan that will have a parking lot that size.”


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2018