Politically Incorrect: Will council hear you?

”I hear you.” (Art by Jacqueline Palmer)

Tim Palmer

Special to the Review

As of Feb. 27, Revelstoke’s mayor and council officially announced they intend to hire a $100,000 communications officer “to support improvements to the city’s communications.”

Here are a few suggestions on civic communications.

I applaud council’s attempt to communicate. However, in my opinion council would better serve the community by hiring a chief listening officer. Or even better yet, they could just listen. Listen to those who voted for them.

Hearing is different from listening, so lets first get our definitions clear. They are important.

Hearing is “the faculty of perceiving sounds.” (Wikipedia)

Listening is “taking notice of and acting on what someone says.” (Wikipedia)

Hearing is authority; listening is empathy. When you listen, you care.

Politicians typically say, “I hear you,” but are they listening?

Taxpayers want their elected officials to listen. We voted because we thought they would listen.

We voted for them because we thought that they would take notice of what was being said and act on it.

Over the next four years, the communications position will have cost the taxpayer’s well over $400,000, moneybetter spent on a safe route for children walking to Arrow Heights Elementary School or finding a long-term solution for sewage treatment so southsider’s can breath on hot summer nights.

If council listened, they might hear that many of us say we don’t want a high-priced talking head.

Here are three alternative suggestions:

Suggestion 1: Include Facebook comments regarding community issues on the regular council agenda.

“What?” the bureaucrats object. “We can’t do that!”

Bureaucracy will say, “There are privacy laws, those comments aren’t representative of the community, it is not politically correct.”

I say, “Yes you can.”

Post just the comments and not the names to conform to privacy legislation. Something is more representative than nothing.

Yes, including social media comments is politically incorrect — for those still living in the 1990s.

Those who post on Facebook are hockey moms, railway workers and business owners. They are real people, with real identities, in our community who want to be listened to.

Facebook is convenient for them. The mayor expressed concern that there are people that aren’t on Facebook, so let those folks know what is going on by publishing the comments in the agenda.

Not everyone, including me, likes Facebook, but it is a reality.

Suggestion 2: Council and city staff, just be authentic. Don’t try and hide stuff from us. Please don’t be condescending.

Please don’t try to spin and control the message. It seems city hall has discovered that their script isn’t being bought by the public.

Is that why the new communications officer? It won’t work. Today there is a new reality, top-down communications will backfire.

Suggestion 3: Start resident and taxpayer satisfaction surveys that are balanced and avoid leading answers.

A communications officer isn’t needed for this annual task. Look to the many communities have been doing this best practice for years.

You, the reader, have listening ideas as well. If you are reading this on-line, share your ideas below.

I suspect most councillors will read them, and maybe even hear you. At least two or three councillors will listen.

If you want council to reverse course on creating a communication officer position or any other budget direction, you need to write a traditional snail mail or email to express your concerns, and they will hear you.

The civic bureaucracy is giving you minimal notice, only nine days, and inconvenient means to be heard. Your last chance to be heard is March 7, 3 p.m., in person at council chambers or in writing by March 12.

Thanks for listening.

Drawing from over 25 years inside the municipal bureaucracy, Tim Palmer, a local government consultant, explores non-traditional methods to helping towns and cities perform better.

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