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On Municipal Communications

In our corporate strategies meeting last week, I brought up what I thought to be an important issue on how the staff and council communicates big projects to the public. I said that:

I’m thinking of something like Centennial Park where staff was here, public was here, and council was here. And everyone was on different pages. Now we are coming up to $20-$30 million project over the next ten years and I can see the exact same thing happening where public perception is very different than what is actually happening. I can see having somebody (new communications role) who is proactively making a plan for us to communicate those big projects and that would be a good thing to add to their job description.

Nathan Colquhoun

The mayor pushed back on my suggestion saying that:

Let’s make it clear though, staff can have all the strategies in the world on communication and that’s a good good thing. But every member of this council has a right to take a contrary position. I expect each of you to voice your opinions on major issues and not to be told this is what you must say. It’s helpful if staff want to give you talking points, and if you believe in that then go for it. I think it’s good to have a communication strategy, but for council, you are all your own communicators.

Mayor Mike Bradley

The mayor’s response to me was a red herring. While possibly not intentional, it completely distracts from what I was asking for. I am not looking to be muzzled or to muzzle (and anyone who knows me knows that I would refuse to be). I am not looking for someone to tell me what I must say. My request was not to be told what my opinions are or what is right or wrong about a project. My request was that the corporation have a communications and media strategy on how to communicate big projects to the public.

Here are a few relevant items in our code of conduct

It is the role of council to ensure the accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management of the municipality;

Members are responsible for making honest statements and no member shall make a statement when they know that statement is false, or with the intent to mislead other embers or the public

Members of Council voicing their personal opinion on a matter, either within or without Council Chambers, shall ensure their opinion relates to the matter at hand and shall not make any negative comments or insinuations about staff or other Members of Council. Press releases, interviews, social media, and any other communications with the media and the public shall focus on policies and initiatives, not individuals. Members shall accurately communicate the ideas in reports as well as decisions of Council even if they disagree with the report or the decision.

My suggestion was an attempt to create a system that makes transparency of our operations much easier and more straight-forward. The corporation and council needs to be transparent with the public about what’s happening, where the money is going, how we are ensuring accountability and good project management. When good communication lacks, it causes confusion in the public, it sets staff up against council (even though staff is just doing what council told them to) and it creates a chaotic political environment where everyone speaks as if their opinions on the matter are the truth of what is and has happened.

This would be healthy municipal government. A communications strategy that says where your taxes are being spent and what has gone right and what has gone wrong based on what we expected and the information we had at the time. Getting onto the same page with the facts and truth about a situation and then giving the space for each councilor to share their opinions and perspective on the facts and the best way forward. There is no place for alternative facts, made up narratives and egos when it comes to running our city.

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