Lady Lake commissioners still split over social media and

Lady Lake commissioners remain divided after hearing details about a plan to put the town on Facebook and livestream its meetings.

Three of the five members support the creation of a communications office to boost Lady Lake’s online presence through social media, livestreaming and a more robust website. The other two were not persuaded by a presentation given by John Pearl, the town’s technology director, at a budget workshop Thursday morning at Lady Lake Town Hall.

Pearl outlined a four-year plan that would gradually increase the amount of information the town disseminates online. He started by pointing out nearly every other municipality the town compares itself to has a dedicated communications capability in one form or another.

He said the plan was developed with five key restraining factors for the upcoming fiscal year:

  1. A single staff position,
  2. budget not to exceed $200,000,
  3. initial focus on developing livestreaming and social media capabilities,
  4. go slow and manage early expectations,
  5. and establish a high standard for quality of work.

The first year would focus on website development, graphic design, limited video production, limited livestreaming (starting with planning and zoning board), and social media limited to event promotions and public service announcements. A new position would be created for graphic design and video production.

The amount of video content, livestreaming, and social media would gradually increase. A communications director, who would report to the city manager, would be brought on the second year to oversee the graphic design / video production employee. The communications director would begin planning content for the town’s upcoming centennial celebration, according to the plan.

The first three years, web development would be handled by outside contractors. Pearl said by Year 4, there would be enough work and it would make economic sense to bring web development in house with a full-time staffer. That would make three full-time communications positions in four years.

Mayor James Rietz, who first brought up the idea at a workshop in March, signaled his continued support for the plan. Commissioners Paul Hannan and Ed Freeman, who sided with Rietz in March, also remain in favor.

But Commissioners Ruth Kussard and Tony Holden, skeptics at the first meeting, were not convinced after seeing Pearl’s presentation.

Kussard opened the meeting by expressing concern about the number and cost of existing projects and saying nothing new should be added. After the plan was presented, she said it is precisely the kind of program she was talking about and voiced her strong opposition. Kussard said she thinks the town needs a better website but thinks it can be achieved with less money. Holden said he fears the program will result in runaway spending with the town getting little to nothing in return.

There was no vote, as this was a workshop session. But the 3-2 split remains and Mayor Rietz said when he pitched the idea that he wanted it to be unanimous, calling it an “all or none” approach. That’s appearing unlikely as the two sides remain far apart.