Tuesday, February 24, 2009

County official breaks budget news on Twitter

Here's a story I pitched to www.ragan.com on some of the social media outreach we've been doing to better connect with residents and media in my job.

Published: 2/24/2009

County official breaks budget news on Twitter

Instead of calling a press conference, this executive announces budget shortfalls via tweets

By Christine Kent chrisk@ckeditorial.com

When Ron Sims, the elected executive of King County, Wash., started using the “microblogging” service Twitter last summer, the feedback from residents and the media was pretty enthusiastic.

“My county exec is on Twitter. [Ron Sims] gets it,” said one fellow Twitter user.

“I think it’s great Sims is using Twitter,” posted “Mark” in response to aSeattle Post-Intelligencer blog story about Sims. “It’s one more (effective) way to connect.”

Ron sims
In lieu of a press conference, Ron Sims used Twitter to announce a budget shortfall.

In September 2008, when it came time to get the word out about a larger-than-expected shortfall in the county budget, Sims could have called a press conference—but instead, he got on Twitter.

“Just revised King County’s budget shortfall from 86 to 90 million dollars. Inflation and a sluggish economy are reducing revenue growth,” Sims tweeted.

This novel approach to communications won plenty of notice from the mainstream media as well as local bloggers.

The reactions to Sims’ foray into social media (he’s also got a blog and aFacebook page) highlight the challenges faced by communicators who assist and manage elected officials and other high-profile people who stray beyond press conferences and press releases.

“One of the King County attorneys told us we were in uncharted territory,” explains Carolyn Duncan, Sims’ communications director. “We were going along gingerly.”

Duncan and her colleagues had put their heads together in mid-2008 to come up with a social-media strategy.

“The goal is to reach more residents—especially those that tend to be younger, or less likely to get their news and information from mainstream media or government Web sites,” explains Natasha Jones, deputy communications director for Sims.

They were fortunate to work for a county executive who was enthusiastic about nontraditional ways of talking to constituents. One of Sims’ children had used Facebook to successfully advertise an event, and Sims saw Facebook’s potential value for raising his profile in King County, of which Seattle is the primary city.

The communications team had also started uploading photos to Flickr, the photo-sharing Web site, as an alternative to merely posting photos on the executive office’s Web site.

The team figured Twitter would be a good stepping-stone, and Sims began tweeting from his BlackBerry—sending short updates about taking rides on his bike, bad calls at Washington Huskies games and, most prominently, the budget shortfall.

Reuters picked up the story that Sims had used this vehicle to announce the news, rather than sending out the usual press release. Other local media outlets followed up on the news, and the Post-Intelligencer ran a piece solely about Sims’ adventures on Twitter.

Sims’ tweeting may have goaded some journalists into jumping on the social-media bandwagon themselves, explains Duncan.

“I got one ominous message from a reporter saying that he needed to talk to me,” she recalls, assuming that the reporter was about to break some damaging story. “Instead he asked if I could help set him up on Twitter.”

In the past several months, Duncan and her team have broadened their Twitter reach by setting up an account just for county news, including changes in bus services, updates on recent flooding problems and county election alerts.

As more county employees dabble in social media, the team has also seen the need for dos and don’ts for the staff.

“Our guidelines are still being drafted, and they’ll be reviewed by our County Prosecuting Attorney’s office,” Jones explains. “In the meantime, we’ve asked that common courtesy and standard workplace rules apply. So far, people have lived up to our best hopes in nearly every instance.”

Since Sims’ Twittering has boosted the transparency of his office, residents and the media have responded in kind, engaging in the kind of dialogue that social media can foster.

Earlier this year, the Seattle Times reported that Sims pulled down a Twitter post pointing to an editorial in the Post-Intelligencer about county elections. (Local election officials thought it looked like Sims was making a subtle endorsement of a candidate; 

Duncan told the Times that Sims merely wanted to alert voters to the election deadline.)

In an uncertain media environment (there’s talk of the Post-Intelligencerclosing this year), Jones says Twitter and other social media tools can help local governments stay in touch with journalists who move on, often to blog on their own, or with other media outlets.

“It’s been helping us build up relationships outside of the newspapers,” says Jones of the connections to journalists on Twitter and Facebook.

What’s in the social media future for Ron Sims?

He's been nominated by President Obama as deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and is awaiting Senate confirmation for the post, so he may be leaving behind his established Twitter and Facebook communities.

“They know I Twitter and they know I Facebook,” Sims told KUOW radio. “So it’s gonna be really interesting to see what the rules are. They may say to me ‘no Twitter’ and then I wouldn’t ... It’ll be up to the White House and it’ll be up to Secretary [Shaun] Donovan about their comfort zones with my Twittering and my Facebook.”

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Future business owners of America

As soon as I find my shoe, I'm out the door for my business meeting. I can't wait to talk with the analysts about these numbers. I think the ROI for this latest proposed venture needs to be re-worked. They're claiming 12% a year. Look, I may have been born in the morning, but not yesterday morning. Can you hand me my Blackberry?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ava @ toddler time

On my furlough day, J. and I took Ava to the toddler playtime at Jefferson Community Center. There are similar playtimes at community centers citywide, which are great for getting the little ones (and their stir-crazy parents) out for a little fun with other kids and parents.

Ava had a blast pushing the toys and trying the tunnel and slide for the first time. If I was not working, I'd be spending more time at these with her.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mad sandwich skills

I guess if push comes to shove, I can always fall back on my mad sandwich-making skills learned running the high volume deli cart in the cafeteria at Harborview Medical Center back during high school and college. As this picture and J.'s kudos can attest, I still got it. I can't wait to do Ava's lunches for school. They're going to ROCK.

Times are hard on the boulevard

In an example of how hard times are out there, Tacoma Public Utilities recently advertised a job that drew more than 1,400 applications. Of those, 1,300 were invited to take a test for the job and more than 800 showed up for the exam. Was this some six-figure, perk-laden position? No: meter reader. Story here.

Seattle Times recently wrote a short piece on a recent job fair at Qwest Field. 2,000 more people than expected showed up for a smattering of jobs that were being offered. 
J. is looking for a new gig too and checked this one out. His two word summary? A waste. He reported that most of the positions were starter-level and not really geared at mid-career professionals. To add insult to injury, when he inquired about a couple jobs with the TSA, the representatives stopped suddenly and said, "Wait, how old are you? 39? Cutoff for these positions is 37." 

Wow. It's not like he showed up to the event on a walker with tennis balls on the back legs and an oxygen tank. Imagine how harrowing it is out there for folks in their 50s and 60s who still want or need to work. The hunt continues. Meantime, he'll continue coaching basketball and training basketball playing clients.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A is for Ava

I took several pictures of Ava trying out her new magnetic fridge letters. I think she's spelling out 'I need personal space.' And today marks her 1 year and 5 month birthday (17 months). Two days ago she added the words "nice," "bus" and "what" to her vocab, the latter of which is kind of funny to hear because she'll repeat it when you say it, creating a "who's on first"-style conversation. The fun times continue.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sony Vaio P: tiny, sexy beast

What's this? Has Sony branched out into ladies leather goods? Is that a Sony-branded clutch for your next evening out? Nope, it's the new Sony Vaio P ultra-compact laptop. 
Dynamism, the tech site with all the best hardware goodies from overseas that haven't quite made it to the states yet, lists these specs:


Intel Atom processor Z540 1.86GHz

Intel Atom processor Z520 1.33GHz

Display (Internal)

1600 x 768




Communication - US Models (VGN-P5XXX models):

- Bluetooth Technology

- Integrated Stereo A2DP Bluetooth Technology (2.1 + EDR)

- Atheros 802.11 b/g/n

- Integr ated mobile broadband



Mobile Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 500


60GB Hard Disk Drive

64GB Solid State HD

128GB Solid State HD

Display (External)

via VGA : 1600—1200

Integrated Ports

1x Headphone Jack

2x USB Port (2.0 compliant)

1x I/O Port

Physical Features

9.65"(W) x 0.78"(H) x 4.72"(D)


1.4 / 1.5 lbs


Like most Sony products, it looks great and they clearly put a lot of resources into design. In fact, I'm still quite happy with my current four year old Sony Vaio VGNTX-650P, which is a sexy, lightweight workhorse in its own right, albeit more mature. Sort of like Julianne Moore compared to Reese Witherspoon or Angela Bassett compared to Jada Pinkett Smith.

I still love it, even though I just had to replace the hard drive, which was a monumental saga of wasted trips, shady tech stores (yeah, you Computer Sonics in Tukwila, which assured me that a USED hard drive sold at nearly full price was the right one. Yeah, if I was running a Mac.), and inept sales staffers (Hi Worst Best Buy!). I finally gave in and paid Sony to fix it for me, which they did with aplomb, although it took a little longer.

But if I could buy another laptop, like a super sexy "travel laptop" and not have J.'s head explode over me getting yet another tech gadget, this would be the one. It's beautiful, portable, and pretty nicely equipped for a backup (not main) device, which is pretty much what reviewers like the experts at Gizmodo are saying about it. I'll have to hit the Sony Style store in University Village and get some hands on  time to pant and drool soon. Hey: you know who could really use a laptop this size? Ava. I mean, shouldn't she start getting used to computers in time for preschool? Hey, J., guess what?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Long Beach getaway

We hit the road this weekend to getaway to the Washington coast with my folks for a couple days. Growing up, my whole extended family on my dad's side spent many weekends at my grandparents' two bedroom, kit built cabin in Ocean Shores.

The cabin is gone, but my mom found a cute, rustic, pet-friendly vacation rental on Craigslist just three blocks from the few blocks that make up "downtown" Long Beach and a short walk to the beach. 

Saturday opened up sunny, bright and cold but soon warmed up to a balmy 57(!) as Ava and I hit the beach for her first ever view of the Pacific Ocean. She took it all in but was more enthralled with the seagulls than the unfathomable expanse of water just yards away. Toddlers these days: so jaded already. 
My dad wanted to take Ava to the carnival rides and some of the places we used to go when I was a kid. Most of them are long gone or were boarded up for the off-season, but Marsh's Free Museum - home of the petrified remains of the half-gator, half-human Jake, among other screwball and wacky things - is still there. 

I used to climb on this Native American statue and the cowboy and other counterparts when I was little. 
Inside, the place is chock-a-block with all kinds of eye candy that's irresistible to someone under two feet tall. Here's Ava touching the type of crap tchotchkes you'll never find at our house unless someone climbs over my dead body to put them there.

Although it's still fun to wander the aisles and Ava had a blast running down the aisles alternately calling out for me, my mom or dad, I'm not sure of the "theme" of Marsh's. Besides the cheap dreck geegaws and doodads, keychains, painted shells, vintage dishes, wacky beach t-shirts, wind chimes and such, it kind of looks like a mad taxidermist's workshop, which is a bit creepy for adults, let alone kids. 
Here's my mom and Ava scoping out a stuffed... um, oxen-like thing and a baby... um, calf-thing. Sorry. I'm a city girl. Outside of cows, horses and similar large farm animals populating the Puyallup Fair each year, I'm at a bit of a loss unless I've seen it on the National Geographic channel.
And of course, the infamous Jake the alligator boy. As if a life as a sideshow attraction wasn't punishment enough, in death he's become little more than a quirky mannequin to be dressed up by store staff like Alligator Boy Barbie. Strangely, Ava is less freaked out by him than she was by the taxidermied animals.

Ava loved fiddling with all of the things in Marsh's and the store staffers were very friendly and seemed accustomed to having kids bobbing about. One of them had just finished chatting with her and showing her yet another kid-proof thing to poke, prod or accidentally drop-kick when she was stopped in her tracks at the sound coming from the windchime-apalooza rack. She beelined  for it as if to say, "Yee gads, what is the melodious resonance?!" 

She stood transfixed as each sea shell and shiny metal-encrusted version tinkled and rang with each bat of her tiny fingers. I'm quite sure she would have stood there for an hour if the sound hadn't been like nails on a chalkboard for most of the adults nearby. I used the parental magic known as distraction to coax her over to something else tantalizingly shiny but less noisy.

After checking out every single item and oddity Marsh's had to offer, we finally tore ourselves away having spent all of 15 minutes inside.  The sunshine and wind chime-induced sensory overload kicked in, along with Ava's afternoon nap just as we set out for nearby Cape Disappointment State Park (formerly Fort Canby State Park). It was an incredible view from every section of the park.
Afterwards, we headed home, finished Ava's nap, then walked a couple blocks to "town" to get some ice cream before settling in to cook up some seafood gumbo.  Because if you're going to be that close to the ocean, it's kind of a rule that you have to eat something that once swam.

Ava kept us company as we cut up and prepped the ingredients, then served as our official mini-taste tester, taking over the job I've held since I was young. She's getting better at working a kid spoon on her own and although she ended up wearing some rice and gumbo, she got most of her tiny bowl's contents into her mouth.
We all slept like logs that night and Ava and I hit the beach with the dog one last time before heading home the next morning. 
We met a couple packing up their horses and miniature donkey just as we pulled up. 
They let us get up close and personal with Kandu the pony, and Ava didn't seem freaked out in the least. Although Sunday was more like the normal gray, dreary coastal weather, all in all, it was a sunny, lovely getaway, summed up by the look on Ava's face below. 
Returning to my childhood stomping grounds with my daughter in tow was a wonderful walk down memory lane while making new memories for her. Yet another perk of parenthood.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Doctor visit

Ava @ 1 yr. 4 mo. doctor appointment. Everything's blessed normal. Even the screaming during the shots.