Evanston holds first-ever Twitter Town Hall

Marshall Cohen

In her social media debut, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl answered questions about town-gown relations, transportation and other issues during the city’s first-ever Twitter town hall meeting Wednesday.

“This is a crash course in tweeting,” Tisdahl told The Daily before the event.

Tisdahl dictated her answers to citizen engagement coordinator Adela Hernandez, who posted the responses under the @CityofEvanston Twitter account. City officials gathered at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., for the virtual town hall meeting.

Questions about town-gown relations touched on dialogue between the University and the city, the recent closing of The Keg of Evanston and even the idea of Northwestern seceding from Evanston, which Tisdahl said she did not think would work.

“we are concerned about all aspects of public safety including in the area surrounding NU,” Tisdahl tweeted in response to a question about off-campus robberies.

Weinberg senior Eric Mayo inquired about the so-called “brothel law,” asking the mayor to explain why four roommates qualified as a safety hazard, but a family of four was safe.

“a family of four has parents,” Tisdahl tweeted.

Before the event, city officials touted the two-way line of communication available on Twitter and said the mayor could respond to users in real-time. Mayo posted a follow-up to Tisdahl’s tweet, noting college students are legal adults who are equally concerned about safety.

“because parents try to keep u safe, that’s their job,” Tisdahl tweeted in response. “We will be discussing the 3 unrelated rule soon & I’m keeping an open mind.”

Tisdahl said to the city officials in the room that the questioner did not fully understand the importance of his childhood years.

“He’s very unappreciative of his parents,” Tisdahl said. “How does he think he’s survived this long?”

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz, who sat in on the event, told The Daily the virtual town hall allowed residents and students to communicate directly with the mayor on their own terms, “from their dorm room, living room or wherever they happen to be.”

However, Bobkiewicz insisted the online event would not replace other modes of citizen engagement, including town hall meetings, ward meetings and the city’s informational 311 service.

“It’s all the above in Evanston,” Bobkiewicz said. “We’re committed to being wherever people want us to be. If Twitter is one of those places, then that’s where we are, and the mayor wants to reach out to those community members too.”

Tisdahl doesn’t have a personal Twitter account and said she never used Twitter before Wednesday’s event. She initially appeared to have some difficulty adhering to the website’s character limit.

“Madam Mayor, it’s only 140 characters – they go fast,” Bobkiewicz said.

But as the hour-long event progressed, Tisdahl learned the ins and outs of the social media platform.

“I’m getting the hang of this now,” Tisdahl said.

City spokesman Eric Palmer said Tisdahl’s first foray into Twitter broadens her ability to interact with constituents.

“She’s engaged in new technologies, and that’s a good thing for the community,” Palmer said. “We continue to find ways and use different avenues to communicate with all segments of the community.”

Wednesday night’s event was not the first time the city experimented with Twitter. The Evanston Police Department tweeted all 911 calls for one day in November for a “virtual ride-along.”

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