Greenport Village trustee candidates and residents now have an online “forum” for discussion on Facebook.
Trustee Doug Roberts started a public Facebook group yesterday called Greenport 2017 Election Forum, where he hopes trustee candidates and residents can interact.
Roberts has his own Facebook page and is a proponent of using social media for discussing local issues. Trustee Mary Bess Phillips started and hosts a private Facebook group for discussion of village issues.
“I simply wanted to create an opportunity for all the candidates to share their ideas and field questions from the voters,” Roberts said. “I will stay out of the discussions except to pose ‘conversation starter’ questions,” he added.
While people without Facebook accounts won’t be able to participate, the online forum won’t be the only way to interact with candidates, Roberts said.
“My hope is that we might engage more voters through this channel, including those who won’t be able to attend in-person forums because of work, childcare responsibilities, or illness,” he said.
The terms of both Phillips and Trustee Julia Robins are up this year and both are running for re-election. So far, no challenger has yet stepped forward to announce their candidacy.
Both Phillips and Robins said their colleague did not tell them about the Facebook forum.
“It is a novel idea for dialogue of issues within our Village of Greenport,” Phillips said.
“Both Doug Roberts and I have used social media to communicate ideas, issues, concerns and questions from residents and business community members with our Facebook pages,” she said. Phillips’ private group has more than 630 members. Last week, for example, she posted a poll in her group to get opinions about keeping the movie theater open year-round. The response — overwhelming supportive — was great, she said.
“Many do not attend the Village Board meetings unless it is such a contentious issue, then the fire station is a full house,” Phillips said.
Robins has a different point of view about using Facebook to communicate with constituents.
“I’m not a big fan,” she said this morning. “The platform is too often a platform for uncivil, unfiltered commentary.” While Robins is a member of Facebook, she doesn’t use it to discuss village issues.
“If people want to talk to me, they can call me or come and talk to me in person,” she said. When she sees something on Facebook that she wants to discuss with a constituent, she contacts them directly, Robins said. “I don’t comment on things on Facebook.”
Robins also said she thought Roberts starting the Facebook forum was “inappropriate” — especially without discussing it first with his two colleagues on the board who he knows are running for re-election.
“I want to run my own campaign,” Robins said.
Roberts said he invited his colleagues on the village board to join the group “two minutes after I set it up.” He said he hopes she chooses to take part in the discussion.
“And I am offended on behalf of my constituents that she considers us ‘uncivilized’ if we share a comment or ask a question of our elected officials. I really enjoy my interactions with folks on Facebook and consider it a valuable tool for staying in touch with the people I serve,” Roberts said.
Phillips is seeking election to her third term and Robins is seeking a second term. Neither said they’ve heard of any candidates. Roberts also said he has no knowledge of anyone running other than the incumbents.
Candidates for trustee have until close of business Feb. 14 to file nominating petitions with the village clerk.
Voter registration days this year are Thursday, March 9 (8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and Saturday, March 11 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at Village Hall.
The election will take place on Tuesday, March 21. Voting is at the Greenport firehouse where the polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Correction: This article has been amended to correct the misstatement of Trustee Julia Robins last name in the original.