By Amaris Castillo
The official Facebook page for the town of Dracut went live last month.
"This page is informational only," the page's "About" section reads. "The views and opinions expressed in the comments are those of the authors and not those of the Town of Dracut."
Town officials treaded carefully before unveiling the new page, which now joins other town department pages including Council on Aging, Dracut Public Schools and Moses Greeley Parker Memorial Library.
At a Board of Selectmen meeting over the summer, Selectmen Chairman Jesse Forcier brought up the subject of creating a town administrative Facebook page.
"I think it's clearly time," Forcier told the other officials at the meeting. "I've seen it in Lowell. I've seen it in other towns. It's, basically, one of the only ways to communicate with anyone these days, unfortunately, other than a sign across from Wendy's. I think you're going to see a lot more community participation with something like this."
Before voting 5-0 to move forward with the plan, selectmen discussed, at length, the potential page and how it would be structured. There was talk that it would be more of a "one-way street" bulletin, barring comments from the public.
Forcier said he later found out that is not possible.
"We didn't want it to become another Dracut negative posting board, which we have far too many (of) already," Forcier said.
Town Manager Jim Duggan was tasked with examining how other municipal Facebook pages are managed and reporting his findings back to selectmen.
"What I'm trying to avoid is the response or people asking questions back, and then we're going back-and-forth, back-and-forth, because there are some points along the road where people will be extremely critical," Duggan said.
"As much as I have never had an issue with answering questions, there are some of those anonymous people that go over the boundary and they step over the line, and not only are they critical, but it's just not nice, some of the things they say," he added.
Before the page went live, Forcier said he imagined posts would include links to other departments to redirect residents to the appropriate channels or to the town website for more information.
"It's a great vehicle. It's a great tool to get the information out versus what we do now, which is the website, which is great, but we rely on signs around town," Forcier said. "That's not efficient."
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.