Tweeting for the People (and Making Them Pay for It)

This story from the Philadelphia Inquirer is filled with some of the more entertaining quotes about social media — and the public sector — you’re going to find.

TEN-YEAR-OLDS can tweet on their own.

But Councilman Jim Kenney apparently needs help. Professional help.

The at-large councilman is spending $28,800 in taxpayer money this fiscal year for the Center City-based company ChatterBlast to perfect his "social-media strategy." The company monitors his Twitter and Facebook pages, and has posted on Kenney’s campaign-funded website.

No other Council member pays a contractor to help with Twitter. Just Kenney, who has the third-priciest staff on Council. He has 10 staff members with a payroll of $654,034, including his salary – plus another outside communications consultant.

Why does he need ChatterBlast on top of that?

"I, at 53 years old, do not have that facility," he said. "So I need consultant advice to communicate with a group of folks who are not necessarily in my age group."

Martin O’Rourke, the politically connected PR man whom Kenney’s office already is paying $30,000 this fiscal year for a communications contract, doesn’t have that facility, either.

"I have no clue how to tweet; I still don’t understand the mechanics of it. It’s a thing of the future," said O’Rourke, who has earned big bucks through contracts with City Controller Alan Butkovitz’s office and the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

ChatterBlast, perhaps not coincidentally, has contracted with both of those agencies. O’Rourke said Tuesday that he has no financial stake in the company, but he "suggested that people talk with them."

Matthew Ray, a co-founder of ChatterBlast, which calls itself a social-media marketing company, defended ChatterBlast’s work for Kenney as a good use of taxpayer dollars. He said that citizens’ problems have been solved thanks to Kenney’s account.

"Having the councilman connect with people via social media is as important as having people read the Twitter feed for Target or Kim Kardashian," he said.

"I think everyone knows $28,000 isn’t a huge amount."

Kenney’s account often tweets several times a day, about everything from his legislation to what he’s having for lunch. So, is ChatterBlast behind such tweets as the one quoting Irish soccer superstar George Best saying, "I spent 90% of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted"?

Ray said that Kenney sometimes tweets without help from ChatterBlast and that ChatterBlast sometimes tweets without input from Kenney. But most of the time, he said, Kenney comes up with the tweets and then runs them by ChatterBlast to publish. That’s what happened with the tweet about Best.

"What we actually do is type it in," Ray said. "It’s no different when someone dictates a letter to somebody."

Local lawyer Jared Klein learned that Kenney wasn’t manning his own Twitter account on Election Day last November when he tweeted that people should vote for Kenney, only to have Kenney’s account tweet back: "I’m not on the ballot today, but I thank you for the support and for supporting my friends!"

What You Don’t Know About the New $100 Bill

A new $100 bill is on the way. As evidenced by the first issue (not sure how many are coming) of the $100 BankNote e-newsletter, it’s not a simple process.

Security procedures are the primary reason for the lengthy introduction. A 3-D security ribbon with colors, bells and more is part of that mix, but I was more intrigued by some of the trivia elements. Among the facts:

  • The bill features Benjamin Franklin’s portrait on the front and a new image of the back of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall on the back
  • There are also phrases from the Declaration of Independence and a quill pen similar to the one used to sign that document
  • Some bills will have a small FW in the corner, which means they were printed at the Western Currency Facility in Fort Worth, Texas. No "FW" means it was printed at the Eastern Currency Facility in Washington, D.C.
  • Finally, U.S. currency is made of three-fourths cotton and one-fourth linen

The new $100 debut: February 10, 2011.

Eight is Enough for Penn. Voters

I’m not one to be particularly intrigued by political trends, but this one is hard to pass up. Democrats and Republicans have swapped control of the governor’s office in Pennsylvania every eight years since 1954. That’s 56 years — 14 elections — with a number of other interesting circumstances.

  • Only one of those times did voters choose a governor who was of the same political party as the president
  • According to the story with the details, the political landscape is often described as “Pennsyltucky”: the urban areas of Pittsburgh in the West and Philadelphia in the East, with the equivalent of rural Kentucky in the vast, sparsely populated middle
  • The late primary in 2008 made Pennsylvania (like Indiana) a major player in the Obama-Clinton primary battle. The result has been a 1.2 million advantage for Democrats in registered voters
  • Philadelphia’s dominance, with nearly 80% of registered voters declaring themselves Democrats and the suburbs turning more and more that way

A few excerpts below and the full story here. This will be one to watch in November.

The “8-year cycle,” as it is known from political science classes to the Capitol press room, has spanned 14 gubernatorial elections. It prevailed even in the days when Pennsylvania governors were limited to a single four-year term, rather than two four-year terms, as they are today. Two political analysts recently calculated the odds of the cycle simply being a fluke at longer than 5,000 to 1.

“The body politic likes balance,” says Tom Corbett, who has good reason to approve of Pennsylvania’s regular switches in political thinking. Corbett is the state attorney general, he is the front-runner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination and — if 2010 turns out the way the last 56 years have gone — he will be the next governor to take the oath of office in Harrisburg.

The 2010 gubernatorial election will be a test of whether anti-Washington and anti-Harrisburg sentiment can overcome what has been a steadily rising Democratic tide in recent years, particularly in the heavily populated suburbs of Philadelphia, the nation’s sixth-largest city.

If this year comes down to turnout, no region will be more important than the suburbs of southeast Pennsylvania that ring Philadelphia. They vaulted Ed Rendell into the governor’s office eight years ago, ensured his re-election four years later and have taken on an outsized role in the state’s political calculus. 

Are You Confident About National Security Choices?

I’m all for national security. Nothing like going out on a limb there. But when I read a rather inconspicuous news brief about three cities being upgraded to the hish-risk tier for terrorist attacks (providing them a combined $67 million in federal funding for 2010), my mind harkened back to the 2006 Homeland Security Department list that included nearly 8,600 terrorist targets in Indiana — more than any state in the nation.

It seems a bit more logical that Boston, Philadelphia and Dallas (the cities upgraded) would rank higher than the popcorn distributor in Berne, Indiana, (one of the 2006 target entries) but it still makes you stop and think. The three additions bring the top-tier category to 10. The total pot of money across the country is $2.7 billion.

The quote attributed to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano didn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. It read: "What it represents is an assessment of risk versus looking at some other factors, such as population densities and other things of that sort."

At the same time, Omaha, Nebraska and Bakersfield, California, were added to the second-tier list for the first time. A portion of the funding from two New York cites — Albany and Syracuse — was cut to make room for the additions.

Here’s another lackluster quote from a "lucky" recipient. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, who represents Dallas, said drug and gang activity in the city adds to its risk profile. "Of course nobody likes that but I’m glad to have the attention given to it."

Just makes you wonder how these evaluations are made and how the money is being spent. Security, yes. Government decision-making, I’m not so sure.