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The village of Forest Park is planning to offer its own Facebook page to share announcements and pertinent information with residents.

At the April 27 village council meeting, Mayor Rory Hoskins and commissioners Joe Byrnes, Ryan Nero and Jessica Voogd voted in favor of entering into a marketing and social media services agreement with Darien Marion-Burton, a Forest Park resident who does business as D.M. Burton. Commissioner Dan Novak voted against it.

The service will cost the village $375 per month for the first year and $425 a month after that. There is no long-term contract, and the village can cancel at any time with 30 days’ notice to the contractor.

In a somewhat unexpected and lively back-and-forth, Hoskins and the commissioners discussed whether spending money at a time like this, when the village is in crisis and revenue is scarce, is a good idea.

Novak stated that with the financial status of the village being what it is and layoffs a possibility, hiring a third-party consultant to do something potentially done in-house is not, perhaps, the best idea.

Village Administrator Tim Gillian acknowledged Novak’s concerns, stating that it’s a “difficult pill to swallow at this point in time.” But he said the village has given CodeRED 30 days’ notice of cancellation, which will save Forest Park $12,000 a year. With the robo-call service no longer available, and with Facebook a platform seen by more people, it makes sense to work with a contractor who will be considerably cheaper.

Additionally, Gillian added that the contractor is equipped to archive social media posts, preserving essential communications in case information is requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the future. This, he said, is an important difference between having someone already employed by the village setting up and regularly updating a Facebook page.

Finally, said Gillian, if the contractor isn’t working out and the village isn’t happy with the service, it can be canceled at any time.

“But we get slammed all the time for not having a platform to get stuff out,” said Gillian.

Byrnes raised the question of whether the service should have gone out to bid.

Hoskins replied that it’s not a large expense. Additionally, the contractor comes recommended by the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, which uses him.

“Sometimes proposals come unsolicited,” said Hoskins, adding that since it’s a local provider with a good reputation, and the contract isn’t for a high dollar amount, it makes sense to act now.

Hoskins added that the Facebook page will have a focus on coronavirus-related information right now, and since some pandemic expenses can be recouped, that might help offset the cost.

Voogd agreed that acting quickly is a good idea. “Time is of the essence,” she said. Nero noted the Facebook contract “is not a bad idea given there’s no long-term contract.”

Initially, the Facebook page will be set up exclusively to push information out to residents, not a platform for asking village-related questions or hosting discussions.

Resident Chris Harris, former village commissioner and former mayoral candidate, shared his comments about the social media consultant.

Harris forwarded to the Review an email with comments he’d hoped would be read at the Zoom meeting. However, despite sending the email at 6:30 p.m. on April 27, the deadline for public comments to be emailed to the village, his comments were not shared during the public comments portion of the meeting.

In his email he stated: “Nothing against the person being considered for the social media job, I do not know them, but I would also urge that the process of hiring this person be more transparent. No-bid contracts are never a good idea. And as the owner of a media company it would be nice to bid on any job of that nature — but ultimately my advice would be to save money and do it in-house. I’d also be a bit concerned that the person being hired is not an LLC or Corporation; this puts a great legal and financial responsibility on them as the contracted mouthpiece for the village.”

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