Should the City of Venice be using public assets to promote businesses, something none of the other local government entities are doing?
By Francesco Abbruzzino, Publisher – The Scoop News
This issue was brought to my attention by a local business within the City of Venice limits, that has never been shared on the City of Venice Facebook page and they want to know why others are and should the city be using tax dollars to promote some local businesses and not others. So, I decided to take a look at the City of Venice postings because as a resident, if this is true, it may be a concern that is justified. Below is what I found out.
As many of you know, I am on social media a lot, retrieving data and information for The Scoop. Something that often baffles me involves the City of Venice. Generally speaking, social media sites fall under the PIO. Additionally, they are the individuals that put out public information like road work, meetings, and all that good stuff.
The City of Venice is paying the PIO over $75,000/yr. So, we as taxpayers are paying this individual to put out information related to the city and that is what I see when I visit the City of North Port, Sarasota, Longboat Key, and Sarasota County social media sites. I want to note that they have thanked local business that have donated or helped out with issues, which is not the same as sharing about a businesses happy hour. However, the City of Venice is doing something that the others are not doing. They are actively promoting local businesses and not all businesses, only a select few. I am not sure of the criteria to have them share your business, but some local business owners have asked why theirs is not shared. Sometimes the city is sharing businesses that are not within the city limits, although their business does bring in traffic, which may impact the city businesses.
I asked the City of North Port the logic behind them not sharing feeds from local businesses and this is what Josh (City of North Port PIO) wrote back to me.
“Hey Frankie, while we have a policy for the City website, we don’t have an official policy for social media…yet. I have a proposed one into our City Attorney for review. The Commissioners will then need to discuss. I think it’s more of concern for using a public asset for private use. As a best practice right now, we try to keep promotions to City events, those who donate to the City, or events that we are associated with such as sponsoring. Every once in a while, someone will come before the Commission and look for help and the Commissioners, as a body, can vote to help promote them, but that’s pretty rare. Maybe 2-3 a year. Our Economic Development folks have a little more leeway with promoting new business, etc but they don’t do a whole lot of that at this time.”
Josh hit the nail on the head, which is using public assets for private use. Since we are paying the PIO over $75k a year, we are basically covering some of the cost associated with what amounts to advertising for local businesses, every time the PIO markets (shares) their business posting. Yes, every time the city shares a posting from a local business, they are essentially marketing the company.
Even worse is when they share something like Sharky’s posting, which is advertising their happy hour. The concern is that this restaurant is managed by City Council Member Nick Pachota. Do I think that Nick is pushing this, no not by any means? He probably isn’t even aware of it and I am confident that if Nick saw it and thought about it, he would ask the PIO to stop sharing their feeds that essentially promote the restaurant out to the general public, just to avoid any thought of impropriety.
I checked the past week and 36.6% of the City of Venice Facebook postings could be construed as advertisements for business or events that have the potential to drive traffic and increase their revenues. Something that Sarasota, North Port, and Sarasota County are NOT DOING.
So, my question is, why are public assets being used to promote certain (not all) businesses within and out of the City of Venice limits?