It's not easy for a politician to dialogue on new-fangled social media about an important topic like education. Twitter chats especially seem to invite comments that favor snark over substance, and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams learned that firsthand in his office's first-ever Twitter chat, Thursday. But instead of being uppity about questions that had nothing to do with education, McAdams answered them all and even artfully redirected one left-fielder back on topic.
After throwing out a few starter questions about education goals of Salt Lake County families and how local parents prepare their children for returning to school, McAdams decided to broaden the discussion, tweeting:
“Nobody wants to talk about education? I hear crickets chirping. Should I change the topic to Comic Con? Miley Cirus? #utpol #BenChat #slco”
McAdams was just asking for it then, as Twitter users soon let loose with a barrage of silly.
@AlexCragun asked: “How do you think Breaking Bad is going to end? #BenChat.” which the Mayor quickly deflected back to education in a two-parter tweet.
“I think Walt Jr. needs to take advantage of one of #slco @YouthServiceSLC after-school programs #uted,” McAdams replied, following up with: “...and Walt gets away with it... #benchat.”
In response to whether he was a Star Wars or Star Trek kind of a mayor, McAdams not only answered that he was mostly a Star Wars fan but he even elaborated.
“As a psychological experiment, I introduced my kids to Star Wars in sequential order. They were devastated by Anakin,” McAdams tweeted.
In response to a comment by Twitter junkie Fox 13 newsman Ben Winslow, McAdams even reluctantly sounded off on twerking, writing, “I failed to master the junior high two-step dance. Twerking is beyond my ability.”
The genius of this Twitter chat, of course, was that McAdams still tweeted about education initiatives, like working with United Way of Salt Lake to offer more after school programming to help at-risk youth and minority students. He also championed a plan for the private sector to invest in pre-kindergarten education programs that would only be paid back as long as achievement goals were met by students that would also mean long-term educational savings.
It was plan that had previously been implemented by Granite High School in Salt Lake County, where preschool investments for at-risk students, including those who speak English as a second language, were more than made up for in long-term savings from diverting students from less effective, special educational programming for when students got older.
“Young brains are most receptive to early ed. Granite School Dist 5-yr pilot program shows it. #BenChat,” McAdams tweeted. It was also an idea unsuccessfully pushed in the 2013 Legislature by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-West Jordan.
One twitstituent even asked, for a single-mother friend of hers, about finding out about after-school programming and McAdams referred her to his office's e-mail contact.
Rather than letting a public-policy dialogue perish, McAdams invited absurdity in to keep a conversation going. If nothing else, it showed that McAdams was willing to talk about something—anything--with constituents, a great improvement over the canned one-way tweets most politicians post.
Have your property tax and bronies questions ready for @MayorBenMcAdams' next Twitter chat Tuesday, Sept. 10, 10:30-11:30 a.m.