The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 10, 2013

Mankato uses social media to deliver news, info

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Are you interested in how many city snowplows are out at this very moment? Looking for an easier way to pay utility bills and parking citations online? Curious how much wastewater the city generated last year?

You’re in luck: The city of Mankato is expanding its online presence, both in information delivered and money collected.

It’s now more convenient to make online payments, thanks to a “shopping cart” feature developed by city staff, Assistant City Manager Tanya Ange said. That means you can do all your online transactions at once.

The city also is looking at options to expand the site to include payments for building permits and other licenses.

The city also recently added two ways to get information out, one a quick read for busy drivers and another for those looking for a little more depth.

The Twitter feed Mankato Streets (@MktoStreets) is a near real-time update about Mankato’s roads. For example, this Tweet went out Tuesday morning: “7 trucks will be out @ 7 am focusing on hills and major routes. #mktosnow.”

It’s only “near” real-time now because department directors have to approve the messages. But as front-line staff such as plow drivers become more familiar with Twitter, they will be able to post themselves, Ange said.

In the spring, messages about plowing will be replaced with warnings about street reconstruction and detour recommendations.

Ange also noted the city accepts camping reservations online, and now is a good time to pick a spot.

The city has long issued press releases about roads, such as when they close or water pipes burst, but the Twitter feed allows the city to be more direct with its updates, bypassing the media, and more frequent.

“We want to put it out in real time, so that it’s helpful to residents, business and also our visitors,” Anges said.

The more in-depth option comes from a pair of reports posted on the Facebook page of City Manager Pat Hentges.

The city manager’s update is a written account of the issues in a given month, large and small. For example, the December update notes that Walmart officials made another visit to Mankato to plan the distribution center.

The operational report is longer and includes details such as the average length of a 311 call (34 seconds), the amount of salt used on city roads (681 tons in December), and how much drinking water was produced on an average day (4.276 million gallons).

The report also has updates on policing and other neighborhood issues.

For example, it notes there are now 11 volunteers who help shuttle police cars for maintenance. And police officers helped ring bells for the Salvation Army on Dec. 6-7.

Even if they’re not an edge-of-your-seat read, the two reports include more detail, by far, than anything the city has before released.