Parker County Judge Mark Riley is helping to drive the transportation conversation in his county. Using his website, the Parker County Transportation Blog, he takes his message directly to county citizens, bypassing the filter of a newspaper’s editor and print’s stifling restrictions on length.
Between his responsibilities as secretary for the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) Regional Transportation Council, his seat on the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition, and job presiding over one of the fastest growing counties in the state, Riley is never short on transportation issues to write about.
The road that led Riley to blogging began in 2008, when he worked with Parker County citizens to create an $80 million transportation bond package. As part of the county’s management of the bond, the commissioners court receives monthly progress reports on the status of the bond projects. The information is important to taxpayers, so Riley searched for the best ways to communicate it.
“Transportation has always been a topic of interest to me, and our county, like most, has great transportation needs,” Riley said. “After our voters overwhelmingly approved the bond in 2008, I wanted to be able to communicate with them on a regular basis about the status of our different road projects. I found the blog and other social media outlets were the perfect way for me to do that.”
The blog posts often focus on the bond program and road and bridge funding within the precincts, but he also seeks out public input on possible future transportation solutions for the county. He solicits comments on his posts and puts up surveys.
This past March, Riley used a blog post to invite Parker County residents to a luncheon and public discussion about commuter rail. The post was shared from his blog to Facebook more than 100 times and was picked up by local papers. Sixty-five residents attended the talk about rail’s place in the regional transportation plan.
“The biggest benefit [of the website] is the direct communication with my constituents. It also forces me to research and learn about state and national transportation issues that affect our county and region,” he said.
Readers regularly post comments on the blog, but they are moderated to keep the focus legitimate, according to Riley. “This blog is not for the purpose of accusing, name calling or in general, child-like behavior. There are other blogs available for those types of comments,” the note on comment moderation warns.
"I've found that the positives of using blogs, Twitter, Facebook and others far outweigh the negatives,” Riley said. “By communicating directly with our constituents and cutting out the middle man, we can eliminate things being taken out of context or the misquotes that come with working through traditional media.”
Riley says he’s used Facebook to counter misinformation in the newspaper, posting their story and then explaining the facts. He uses Twitter to share new blog posts, read more about various transportation issues and learn of breaking news he can relay to his constituents.
Each of the judge’s blog posts can be shared to Facebook or Twitter with only a few clicks via built-in social media buttons, and his personal Twitter feed also appears in the right-hand column of each page.
The website is mobile responsive, too. It displays a version of the site’s layout best suited for whichever phone, tablet or computer it’s being viewed on.
But what sounds like complicated coding took the judge only a little research and few mouse clicks to get going.
“I set the blog up myself after researching other sites and discussing it with others who had blogs. I decided WordPress was the best option,” said Riley. “It is both user- and reader-friendly and is something that would be very easy for other county officials to use.” ✯