Portland Charter Commission on Twitter, Facebook? Not really

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PORTLAND — Members of the new Charter Commission elected leaders June 18. But they say they know nothing about Web-based social networking sites that are using the commission to attract followers and promote causes.

A Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Google Group, all called “Portland Charter,” were launched in the past week.

The Google Group calls itself “an electronic meeting hall for Portland citizens” to discuss the charter, the commission and related topics. The Twitter account bio says, “Portland Charter 2.0 – updates on events and progress made by the Charter Commission of Portland Maine!” The three sites link to each other, and the Google Group site also links to the official Charter Commission page on the city’s Web site.

It is unclear who set up the Google, Facebook and Twitter sites, because none of them identify administrators or owners. City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Tuesday morning she was unaware they existed and was trying to find out who created them.

The commission at its first meeting June 18 briefly discussed different ways to reach people on-line and via social networking sites, commission Vice Chairman Jim Cohen said, but there was no decision made. Commission Chairwoman Pamela Plumb was out of town Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Commissioners Nathan Smith, Jim Gooch, Ben Chipman, Robert O’Brien and Laurie Davis, all reached Tuesday, said they didn’t know who was behind the sites. Some thought other commissioners established the sites. 

While the “Portland Charter” moniker is misleading, the sites also express support for issues completely unrelated to the Portland Charter. The Twitter account includes a posting urging people to “show support for democracy in Iran” and links to helpiranelection.com.

“I would call that mission creep,” Smith joked, adding that he is interested in knowing who is behind the sites.

Facebook members interested in following the progress of the Portland Charter Commission who find the “Portland Charter” could also be led to believe the Charter Commission is a fan of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, Democracy Now! and Equality Maine.

Chipman said he was asked to be a “friend” of the Facebook page and probably would do so, as have several of the other commissioners – Gooch, Cohen, O’Brien and John Spritz. Chipman believes the commission will eventually want its own authorized page on Facebook.

“I think its something the group would want to do,” he said. “But no one was designated to set anything up.”

Chipman suggested that maybe the fake commission mouthpiece would turn the sites he or she created over to the commission.The Facebook page had 39 friends as of Tuesday, and the Twitter account had 22 followers; the Google Group had no members. An e-mail sent to the Facebook page was not answered, and an e-mail sent to the Google group was returned.

The Charter Commission is scheduled to meet next on July 2 at a time not yet determined. A public hearing is scheduled for July 16 at 5 p.m. in Room 209 at City Hall. For more information go to portlandmaine.gov/chartercommission.htm.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net