Good City Hall communications is worth paying for

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
November 20, 2017 - 5:36am Updated: November 20, 2017 - 3:18pm

KAMLOOPS — Call them communications strategists, communications specialists, public relations practitioners or spin doctors, people are skeptical of them, especially when they work for governments.

So I’m guessing council members are getting more than a few indignant emails about the fact Kamloops City Hall is hiring a new communications manager.

Waste of money, taxpayers will say. Thought they learned their lesson with the downtown parking study, they’ll say.

If a hundred grand is the cost of this new position, it’s a lot to pay for a PR job, but the job itself is far from being a waste. Local government, being the level of government that’s closest to the people, has a special challenge in keeping the public informed about what it’s doing.

It wasn’t that long ago that there was no structure at all in the City of Kamloops for reaching out to the public.

Nowadays, some form of communications strategy, along with at least some staffing, is common place in local governments — in fact, it’s a necessity within our democratic system.

And, by the way, the job posting says the new manager will supervise several existing positions.

If taxpayers want a say in local decision-making, if they want City Hall to be pro-active in communicating with them, if they want to be engaged, somebody’s got to be in charge of that on a full-time basis.

Public-body communications can no longer be done off the side of somebody’s desk, or with a few press releases. City government is complicated, with many responsibilities that require many levels of expertise in many departments.

Taxpayers want transparency, consultation, better planning and better decision-making by those who represent them. Effective dialogue between government and public is an absolute necessity for those things to happen.

The term “public relations” has become synonymous with spin and propaganda, but it’s about information, and taxpayers need more of it.

The market place will determine what the job is worth, but the job is worth doing.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.