City Hall Communications Plan Moves Forward

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
May 7th, 2009

Over the past year in particular, and likely on going back into history for as long as Rossland council has existed, there has been much talk about talking, or rather communications about communicating, as it were. In last fall’s election communications became one of the major issues with Rosslanders expressing a strong desire to improve the dialogue flow between council and residents.

In its first five months the new council has been pushing the communications improvement agenda and this past Monday’s Committee of The Whole (COW) meeting saw Councillor Hanne Smith present a thorough brainstorming document to council on the issue. Based on the principles of improving communication from council to residents and vice-versa, council to other Greater Trail council, council to media, council to city staff and council to itself, the document presented a number of suggestions and thoughts, all of which served as grist for the discussion mill.

In Smith’s situation analysis of the situation, she noted, “I disagree that the city is almost entirely reliant on the local media to get messages out. That’s what we’ve used traditionally, but there are many other ways to communicate. In general, the kind that people appreciate the most is person to person.”

In an effort to add more person-to-person communication, the analysis suggests involving youth and the community as a whole by taking either a regular council meeting or COW meeting to an ‘Away match’, as Councillor Andy Stradling put it. Mayor Greg Granstrom suggested the possibility of holding a council or COW meeting at the high school so that youth could get involved in the process and witness how council operates. As well, the general community could be invited.  The community is, of course, already welcome to attend council meetings; however, council chambers only allow 10 to 15 folks to cram in. Taking the meetings to the high school would be an opportunity for many to attend.

Ultimately, the recommendation was made for the CAO to invite a number of groups to come to the “Away match,” as delegations. Mayor Granstrom took on the responsibility of contacting RSS to schedule the meeting before mid-June or early in next year’s school calendar if June was not workable.

Other ideas on improving dialogue with residents included initiating town hall meetings three times per year in fall, winter and spring, a new city website with social networking components, a blogging/ dialogue forum on the Rossland Telegraph, and possibly bringing back a public input session to council meetings. All of these above suggestions came out of the COW meeting on March 31st as recommendations for council which were adopted during the April 14th regular council meeting.

The task now before council is figuring out the how to’s of implementing the adopted recommendations. Discussing the idea of public input sessions, Granstrom suggested that until staff comes back to council with a method of incorporating the input session into the meetings it might be as simple as just asking people to show up 15 minutes early to Council meetings to informally discuss or air any issues with council members. This idea was unpopular with council, however, as councillor Spearn noted. It was agreed that council would not want to show up 15 minutes early only to sit there while few or no people showed up.

Councillor Laurie Charlton observed that when the draft procedures bylaw comes back before council would be the time to discuss this. Until that procedures bylaw is in place, Charlton said, it would technically be illegal to include the public input sessions. On that same note, Charlton said that the change of council meeting times from 7:30pm to 7:00pm was also technically illegal as the procedures bylaw had not yet been passed. No specific recommendation was made on this matter and council will wait for staff’s recommendation on including the public input session.

With staff at city hall and councillors already very busy, the brainstorming document floated the idea of hiring a communications officer for the city. Such an employee might, it was argued, ease communications and implement some of the suggested improvements.

“Part of the reason we have so many gaps in communications is that we don’t have one person tasked to the job on a regular basis. A communications officer could write the newsletters and press releases, update the website, make sure the printed info for the front office and library info was current complete, post information to bhubble, make sure the background information for public bulletins is available, help the Sustainability Commission and Task Forces get their information out, assist communities with their publicity needs, set up times for councillors to speak to local groups etc,” wrote Smith.

No specific recommendation was made as to the communications officer. Moving forward, council and staff will continue to hammer out the how to’s of implementing their recommendations and welcome input from the community on the subject.

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