Communications in the Modern World

There has been a lot of discussion lately on the street, on Facebook and in the local media about communications with the city. About how to listen, about spin doctoring, and about who should be doing what.

Last month Mayor Sulz had expressed concerns with the tone of some comments he’d seen on Facebook, and rightly had those added to the minutes of a public meeting. The importance of an official record is something I’m learning about as we get comfortable with our role as council. Much of what we do is heavily regulated by the province, and for good reason. While it is a popular network, not everyone is on Facebook. It’s more comparable to a coffee shop conversation than a proper public debate.

Discussion is good; our community is full of smart people who have a lot to contribute. Coffee shop conversations have an important place in our society; it is through these informal chats that a lot of ideas are percolated and background information shared. They can not, however, replace formal conversations, and well researched background documents. These formal submissions help to separate brainstorming from the final answers, making it easier for council and interested citizens to get caught up on the discussion.

Social media algorithms (the math behind what you see in your feed) and advertising interests control what we see in many networks. Whenever we get something for free, we are the product, not the customer.
To encourage good content, it’s important that we all take responsibility for active listening and responsible conversation in this new digital age. To be engaged citizens, we need to seek out the local news stories, not wait for them to pop up. To be good neighbours, we should be giving our peers the benefit of the doubt. Call out fake news when you see it, but be kind, it might be an honest mistake rather than deliberate misinformation. Politely disagree, provide supporting information, and keep an open mind as you listen in turn. As we get to understand each other’s opinions, we’ll be better able to make smart decisions on how we live together in this community.

If you’ve been talking about the City budget and spending asks around the kitchen table, I encourage you to summarize those concerns and submit them as a formal comment; today is your last day!

It can be point form or written out, but make sure it has a reason or supporting information. Please keep it to the point, if we are fortunate to see a lot of submissions, we need to be able to read through them all in a reasonable time frame. Highlight your points well, and we’ll be better supported to use that information in our debate on March 21st.
All comments will be reviewed and discussed at the March 21st Committee of the Whole Meeting, which will be live streamed on the City’s website. I hope that we can address your concerns to your satisfaction, and show our transparency in process. I can’t promise that we can make everyone happy, but I hope to help explain why we feel our decision is in the best interest of our community’s future.

You can find the presentation from Tanya McCabe at the Public Hearing here on video. We had good discussion on several budget items:

  • The process (we’re all still new to how a city budget is put together, and wanted to clarify for the record)
  • Tourism infrastructure funding (now a permanent provincial budget line item! This means we will continue to be able to improve our facilities for this growing industry with provincial help)
  • Debt management (our community balked at the previous levels of debt, and the city has been working hard to reduce it, with good results)
  • A brief overview of the asks
  • A longer discussion on the RCMP and some possible options for funding

I’ve been sitting on my thoughts on the communication officer, and I wanted to apologize for that. I feel strongly that we should invest in this role for our community, but I wasn’t sure how best to explain my thoughts when the rhetoric on Facebook has been so strongly against. My conversations in actual coffeeshops has been supportive; but that’s likely because I tend to speak with others who have an understanding of the role communications plays in our businesses and volunteer efforts.

Communications has some similarities to the food service industry in this way. Everyone cooks at home; my main goal with my store is to support that. However, cooking for your family is a very different role than running a busy restaurant. Asking our city staff to do communications off the side of their desk is inefficient; they are not professionals in that skill. They can do some basics, which is what we’ve seen, similar togoing to a restaurant and getting Aunt Mabel’s bacon and eggs, but after an hour or two instead of the expected 5 minutes. Our Corporate Admin officer has a lot of work to get done, so her team tries to do the best they can, but you’re getting a basic BBQ burger, not a prime rib dinner with all the fixings.

I’m not suggesting that we need a 5 course fancy meal from a high priced spin doctor; I’m suggesting that we need to bring in a professional so that our costs go down, messages go out in a coordinated, timely manner, and we keep the authorities at the province happy. Our community has asked for better communication from our city; why should we not allow them to bring in a pro?

The new role would not begin immediately; there is still much work to be done. We as a council must complete our strategic plan (delayed, but scheduled for this spring). Then, the communication plan will be drafted based on our new priorities. There will be key metrics put in place to report on. Council will decide how we focus their energies. The job posting would likely be ready for the fall, by which point I hope that we’ll have set the tone of a service based city hall, as my fellow councillor Mr. Cross has lobbied for. I already see so much change and effort from our staff; they just want to do their job well.

We all want what’s best for our city, we just have differing views on how to get there. I look forward to the debate on March 21st, and hope to see many of you there. The meeting will be on video for those who cannot attend. Thank you for reading all the way to the end, I appreciate your willingness to engage! I’m learning so much as I settle into this new role, and am getting more comfortable with speaking my truth at the appropriate times. I’ve wanted to post this for a week, but kept fixing the wording. Please feel free to comment below or reach out by email at ncherlet at revelstoke.ca, I’m happy to discuss further!

 

2 thoughts on “Communications in the Modern World

  1. Peter Humphreys says:

    It would appear as if you have already made up your mind. That is the biggest argument against providing any feedback into the official forum. If Councilors have made up their mind, why should we bother. What would change you mind? Should we be attending the March 21 meeting just in case there is a show of hands vote?

    • Nicole Cherlet says:

      My apologies for missing this comment, Peter!
      It was certainly an interesting discussion when it came time for debate. I think we were all open to ideas for solutions; Councillor Younker came up with a great compromise.
      As for having my mind made up, I felt strongly about the need for investment in our communications strategy, I still do, but I’m open to ideas on how to achieve that. I look forward to getting our suggested Communications Plan now that we’ve done our Strategic Planning session as a council.

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