A blog – short for “weblog” – provides expert commentary with a personal touch.Blogs are often designed to invite discussion, where readers are in some way stirred to comment on a blogger’s post.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen several mayors start blogs, but after a few entries, they tend to dwindle and often fade into the sunset!In the course of our online visits to cities across the country, however, we recently came across one mayor’s blog that caught our attention.
Bill Gentes – the mayor of Round Lake, Illinois, a suburb of approximately 17,00 residents located about 45 miles north of Chicago – launched his blog in spring of 2005. He tells MuniNet that he started the blog as a way to correct the many inaccuracies that were cropping up on the various online homeowner message boards. Most of these boards have now gone by the wayside, and instead, residents turn to this centralized blog as their source for local information.
Mayor Gentes’ blog is impressive on several counts: For one, he speaks to residents in very understandable terms, which, in our experience, encourages participation not only in the blog, but also in the total government process.
Secondly, Mayor Gentes provides valuable information in a meaningful context. Earlier this month, in response to several motorcycle accidents in the area, he devoted one of his posts to motorcycle safety – complete with tips on how to increase visibility, avoiding dangerous situations where crashes are most likely to occur, and appropriate protective gear for cyclists.
Topics that tend to generate the greatest response from residents include transportation, schools, and issues with a local slant. The more local the issue, the more people want to give their two cents.
The blog has become a powerful vehicle for communicating with residents.
“Starting a blog was the single smartest thing I’ve done as mayor,” Gentes said in a recent phone interview. An endeavor he obviously enjoys, he posts a new entry almost daily. And his efforts are equally well received. Residents are reading – and responding. The blog gets between 500-600 unique visitors per day – a high number, particularly for a town of its size.
The blog has had some secondary benefits as well. Analyzing traffic to the blog can shed light on the demographics of its readers – for example, Mayor Gentes often notes a high numbers of hits coming from area employers such as Baxter, Abbott, and Motorola, all located in or near Round Lake.
From an efficiency standpoint, the blog can often help the mayor respond to a citizen’s inquiry. Many times a resident will contact the mayor with a question on a topic that has been the subject of a blog entry. In these cases, the mayor can not only provide a personal response, but also direct the resident to the blog for further detail.
Gentes was not the first mayor in Illinois to launch a blog; he credits that milestone to Mayor Jim Willey of Elburn, Illinois, who started his blog back in November 2004. The two mayors met in November 2005, when Mayor Gentes was driving through Elburn – which is about 50 miles southwest of Round Lake – and stopped in for a surprise meeting! Of course you don’t have to picture the meeting in your mind – each posted a photo of the two “bloggers” on their respective web sites.