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In an effort to be more transparent and communicative with Newton residents, Mayor Setti Warren has encouraged several departments to establish their own voices through social media and other communication tools.
"When I came into office I saw a need for department heads to get to another level to communicate with our residents as efficiently as possible," says Warren, who uses both Twitter and Facebook to connect with the community.
Warren says residents frequently interact with him on Twitter, especially during weather emergencies. He says he pushes information out on his social networks to show the community City Hall happenings and explain how they can give feedback on day-to-day and long-term issues.
Now Warren is encouraging individual city departments to connect with the community online.
The uses social tools to give residents updates and breaking news about crime in their neighborhood. Transitioning to online notifications was a smooth process, says Lt. Bruce Apotheker, the community services commander for Newton Police.
"The mayor had the foresight to realize this is what people are looking for," he says.
The Police Department uses Twitter and , in different capacities. The department's Twitter account updates sporadically and has 1,300 followers, while its Nixle has drawn more than 900 followers. Nixle sends subscribers text or email updates with crime summaries or important updates to keep the public informed about city crime.
Apotheker says these tools allow residents to learn about crimes their neighborhood instantly, instead of finding out days or weeks later.
The Health and Human Services Department also has an emerging social media presence, says Teresa Wood Kett, the department's public health program specialist. Her department is still in a "soft launch" on Twitter, but has plans to attract more followers soon.
Kett says she was eager to make the transition online "to get word out about programs and health information to a broader audience."
Being active on social networks not only helps citizens learn more about City Hall, it also improves how the individual city departments function, Kett says.
"It helps us be a better department because we can connect with people doing similar work to us and learn from each other," Kett says.
The city's Department of Planning & Development also started a Twitter feed recently. Seventy people are following the @NewtonEconDev account so far. @NewtonRecycles, an account for the City of Newton Environmental Affairs Division in the Public Works Department, has had an account since 2010 and currently has 97 followers.
Even with so many City Hall voices making an appearance on Twitter, the departments do not think residents will become bogged down with content.
“That the nice thing about Twitter, you can follow who you want to make sure it doesn’t get overwhelming,” says Kett.
City Hall has also embraced other communication outlets to better inform and listen to residents. allows residents to report day-to-day service requests, such as potholes or broken parking meters. Since the service was launched a year ago, more than 10,000 requests have been reported and completed, according to Aaron Goldman, the mayor's citizens assistant officer.
City's Hall's reverse-911 system, which alerts residents in times of emergency, is also growing in popularity, he added.
Though City Hall has no definitive plans to introduce more departments to social media, Goldman says the Mayor's Office will look at each department to assess its potential with these tools.
Editor's Note: The @NewtonRecycles Twitter account, which is run by the City of Newton Environmental Affairs Division in the Public Works Department, was initially left out of this story. The information has since been added.