Arlingtonians may not know Peter Golkin by name, but many have likely seen his tweets.
Golkin is a spokesman for the Arlington Department of Environmental Services, or, as he considers himself, “a 21st century town crier, but without the bell.”
Among other duties, Golkin has run the department’s social media accounts for the last four years. Under his watch, DES’s Twitter account has amassed more than 7,000 followers, which is a lot of followers for a department that focuses mostly on public works and transportation — topics Golkin admits can seem dry.
The social media savant has found that a little humor goes a long way toward people internalizing his announcements, and his wit has even caught the attention of some celebrities, on whom he sometimes relies to spread his messages.
“A lot of government stuff can be real technical or just downright boring,” Golkin said. “If we can make it even slightly entertaining, or if we can just make people pause for two-tenths of a second before scrolling down and absorb some county information, then that’s a good thing.”
Whether it is a timely joke or a goofy graphic, Golkin manages to add humor to even the simplest announcements about COVID-19 guidelines or recycling rules:
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) June 22, 2021
Please don't abandon faith or anything else at County recycling drop-off sites. If there's no bin for it, don't leave it behind. A higher power is watching. https://t.co/KlCf2JaMty pic.twitter.com/EJm4zQ2XC6
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) June 17, 2021
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) June 16, 2021
Normally upbeat in his social interactions, Golkin does have a nemesis: FOG.
He regularly warns about putting fats, oils and grease down the drain, a big no-no in the world of wastewater management. Such common kitchen waste can turn into a gelatinous solid and clog the pipes, endangering the plumbing of a resident’s home or even their whole neighborhood.
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) July 4, 2021
“I think that photo should be the next county logo,” said Golkin of the famous fat-filled pipe image he frequently tweets. “I think all of Arlington could be united by it if we make it official, [putting] it on stationery [and] all the county vehicles: ‘No fats, oils and grease in Arlington.'”
One of the account’s most dedicated fans is none other than Star Trek’s William Shatner. Shatner’s fandom began when Golkin got wind that the Captain Kirk actor was interested in electric bikes. He invited him to come to Arlington to ride the streets.
“I warned him e-bikes weren’t allows on county trails. He tweeted back that was barbaric. It was eventually changed. I like to think of that as Bill’s rule,” said Golkin.
Shatner soon started to engage more with the department on Twitter.
“Every time you exchange tweets with a legend like William Shatner, his millions of followers come on for the ride,” said Golkin.
Golkin has used the connection, and his 2.4 million Twitter followers, to the benefit of the county and to help spread messages from the DES.
“I tweeted at him a picture at a liquor store. They had a bottle of James T. Kirk Bourbon, and I told my now good friend Bill that if he needed to recycle the bottle, there were five drop-off location in Arlington to recycle glass,” he said. “If he responds to that, then more people will pay attention.”
Golkin has quite the affinity for celebrities, and has managed to get photos with some of his favorites, including Jerry Maren, who played a munchkin in “The Wizard of Oz,” and Rusty Burrell from “The People’s Court.”
Famous followers aside, Golkin also tries to use his social media reach to help residents of Arlington when they’re in need.
“Sometimes, somebody will drop a cellphone down a sewer. We’ll try to assist,” he said. “We once tried to reunite a lost teddy bear with its young owner and that got a lot of attention. Traditional news media like the [Washington] Post picked it up. No one came forward. I played with the idea of staging a reunion with some hired child, but that would be duplicitous.”
Golkin said he’s not the only one who tries to spice up local government communications using social media.
Golkin said he enjoys both working and living in Arlington with his wife and two kids. He doesn’t know what’s next for him but, either way, he sees a lot more tweets in his future.
“Who knows, maybe I’ll move to New Jersey and take over the social,” he said.
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