What do you get when you cram one mayor and two dozen city staffers in a room with a bank of computers, tablets and smartphones?

On this particularly evening, a highly motivated team of workers eagerly answering a flood of questions about the city posted during the first Mayor’s Night On(line) through an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) reddit forum.

“This really underscores how different Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration is,” said Tim McNulty, city communications manager, watching the buzz as staffers picked away at their keyboards on the 6th floor of the City-County building.

“This is the whole brain trust of our city government answering any question lodged,” he noted.

Despite a few technical hiccups with bandwidth that emerged shortly after the reddit forum got underway, the mood was festive with staffers cheering and whooping in encouragement to one another. Debra Lam, chief innovation officer, insisted on bringing in a white board to competitively tally who was answering the most questions.

For his part, Mayor Bill Peduto sat at the front of the group, calling out the questions and making assignments. The forum, which ran three hours, was billed by staff as the first of its kind in reddit’s history.

The idea was 100% Mayor Peduto’s, said Laura Meixell, analytics and strategy manager. The mayor, who engaged in an AMA while campaigning, found it to be a good way to communicate with constituents.

“The mayor is legitimately super-excited as evidenced by the energy in this room,” said Meixell. “It’s really special that people get access to these folks. These are the people who are running Pittsburgh.”

Hot topics that rose to the top (through reddit’s voting system) centered on issues related to Verizon versus Comcast service and the Lyft-Uber controversy.

Plenty of questions were posted throughout the forum, a 109 comments in total, covering everything from how to handle abandoned buildings (reinvest in them instead of tearing them down) to bike lanes, dog parks and making the US Steel Tower roof a “green” public park.

There were a few light-hearted asides as well directed to the mayor. Does he drink craft beer? How did he like the Ben Folds concert?

Read it all for yourself on reddit.

Deb Smit

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared...