At last week’s City Council meeting, a citizen speaker asked how many of the eight council members present for duty (Bill Schmidt was ill) had visited the city’s web site lately.
One member raised his hand. There was a half-hearted nod from another. Some looked down at the floor, while others eyed the ceiling. Dan Coffey stated publicly that he hadn’t looked at the web site for a couple of years. All members present looked uncomfortable at having been put on the spot.
The citizen continued. Shouldn’t there be some way to visit the city’s web site and find complete contact information for all city officials – not just phone numbers, but e-mail addresses? Of the dozens of New Albany municipal officials, only City Clerk Marcey Wisman provides a comprehensive description on the site of her office’s functions, and complete contact information.
Again, there was a nod or two, several obvious expressions of boredom, and the imminent threat of President Gahan’s ubiquitous staccato gavel.
What was that we were saying yesterday about respect? Did we mention that it’s a two-way street?
Lest it be said that NA Confidential has eyes only for the bizarrely stunted public relations skills of Mayor James Garner, it should be remarked that he is not the only elected official who has failed to grasp the obligation of communicating with the citizens of the city of New Albany.
Of course, Mayor Garner would like for you to know that you can come see him any time in the privacy of his office. Councilman Coffey, and presumably most of his cohorts on the Council, will give you a telephone number and invite you to call for a chat.
In other words, these elected officials will be more than happy to speak with you one-on-one so long as they remain on their turf – behind a closed door, at the other end of a phone line, or with a gavel in hand.
Perhaps NA Confidential is overly demanding, but we believe that a public official’s obligation to communicate with the citizenry goes further than five-minute increments grudgingly offered once a fortnight by the City Council, or by a mayor who has so little regard for the views of citizens that he remains ensconced in the corridor as they speak.
The calendar indicates 2005, and all elected officials should make e-mail addresses available to the public. If the city is unable to provide suitable e-mail service (if so, it’s yet another shameful indictment of City Hall’s organizational skills), then there are numerous personal avenues via Yahoo! or Hotmail. These should be posted on the city’s web site, along with telephone numbers. It is entirely reasonable to expect that a city the size of New Albany can offer a bare minimum of telephone extensions and voice mail to officeholders … or pay for a cellular network.
To repeat: It is 2005.
Perhaps the City-County building uses a different calendar.
Na Confidential suggests that both our Mayor and the City Council be prepared not just to respond promptly and in sufficiently literate fashion to electronic and telephone queries, but also to step out from their respective comfort zones and present themselves to the community.
Currently our mayor and council representatives, abetted by commentators like the Tribune’s Amany Ali, see only “theatrics” when citizen speakers use their precious time allotment to address the city’s leaders … and unfortunately, the city’s leaders feel threatened by it.
Instead, the city’s leaders should be seeing “opportunities,” and be challenged by those citizens who are showing a willingness to participate.
If in fact current formats are unwieldy, it is only because New Albany’s concerned citizens have so few chances to address the city’s leaders as a group. Ten minutes a month isn’t enough.
The obvious solution is for leaders to lead by seizing the public relations initiative and take themselves to the people in the form of regularly scheduled forums throughout the city.
Now is the time for New Albany’s elected officials to listen and to lead.
For a variety of reasons, perhaps sensing that New Albany stands at a crossroad with respect to its future, city residents are expressing interest in possibilities, in their quality of life, and in what ways they can be part of the future.
Why are more and more people reading NA Confidential?
There are as many reasons as there are readers, but prime among them is that the mere presence of this admittedly imperfect Internet forum (and others like it) provides validation for many concerned New Albanians whose needs have not been met by communications-challenged public officials and underachieving local newspapers.
Accountability is the goal, and although there are numerous paths toward its realization, the best and least expensive place to start is by bettering the lines of communication between citizen and elected leader.
NA Confidential already has challenged Mayor Garner to face the public. It now challenges the City Council to initiate a process for doing the same.
If City Clerk Marcey Wisman can do it …
Two other vital New Albany web logs:
New Albany Renewal