COLUMN: Controlling the flow of information

Transparency in municipal politics is a tricky thing.

Transparency in municipal politics is a tricky thing.

Take the recent announcement of the weekend water shutdown to take place in March, 2017.

The positive spin on this announcement was lots of notice was given. The work is preventative and necessary.

The part that I find is interesting is how the announcement was made.

We received the press release from the municipality late on Thursday.

Our editor was sent an email and we were also sent a fax. Sending it late on a Thursday means that we can’t go to press with it for a week. (See the article on Page 3.)

It also means it would miss the Friday edition of the daily paper in Penticton and the Friday edition of our sister paper, the Penticton Western News.

Fortunately, we have a great team here at the Review and we were able to post our story regarding this stoppage on our website on Friday.

We shared it on our social media channels and the response was immediate.

For those who don’t go on the Internet or don’t use social media, they would have been at a disadvantage.

In my opinion, the communication strategy here was to make sure the news of this stoppage would trickle out (excuse the pun.)

I’m not criticizing this strategy because I have often advised clients to deliver bad news late on a Thursday. It is a great way to control the flow of information and manage the response. Wag the dog.

Here’s the rub. One of the mayor’s priorities was to improve the way city council communicated with the public.

He campaigned on it.

He changed the agenda of council meetings to add an open floor for questions from the public.

The way this was handled goes against this priority.

Good news announcements are handled much differently.

We often get notice that something is coming.

There is usually a photo opportunity and sometimes an advance copy of the announcement is provided.

An attempt is still made to control the message, but nevertheless access to information is easy and seamless.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not being critical of the work that needs to be done on our water system.

I am not even being critical of the need for a three-day shutdown.

I am being critical on the way the communication was handled.

I think there could have been a press conference with member of public works that could intelligently answer questions about how the work would be done.

Then we can provide that information to our readers.

That helps to prevent speculation and rumours early on in the process.

I think municipal staff are nervous about delivering bad news.

They think by controlling the flow, it will make it easier to handle.

The problem with that is when you try and wag the dog, sometimes the dog turns around and bites you.

I am looking forward to the first of the information sessions that are planned to explain this shutdown.

I am expecting a full house of frustrated residents and business owners looking for explanations that could have been provided a week ago.

Rob Murphy is the sales manager at the Summerland Review.

 

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