Much has been said since 2008 – and still is, today – about the devastating impact upon governmental budgets brought on by the foreclosure and property tax calamities. In fact, I don’t believe enough can be said about it.
Having once served as Public Information Director for Dearborn, Michigan, a city hammered
by the foreclosure/ property tax issue and the near-collapse of the auto industry, I respect the critical importance of effectively communicating with residents and business. Dearborn, along with many other communities, has been on the front line of having to manage harsh changes. Local government knows best the rough-shod damage foreclosures have inflicted upon budgets and the ability to govern.
Administrators see proud, stable neighborhoods battered around as if homes and schools had been caught in the path of a roaring invisible tornado. Oftentimes, this tornado has left far more than just visible damage. It has left community-wide “spiritual scars”. Taxpayers wonder: “what kind of a future do we have?”
Favorite and essential services like public safety and recreation have been slashed in communities across the country. So, when the discussion turns to funding public information programs, it’s easy to assume that no one will miss such a “non-essential” service.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Think about this: community confidence has been shaken to the core. And yet, too many local governments too-eagerly toss aside the very programs that can help most when communities are at a crossroads.
Fortunately, as public information budgets have severely shrunk and disappeared, technology has boomed. This technology makes it far easier for contracting out public information services to a small public relations firm – or, a single experienced professional – to handle what used to require an entire staff to do, at a fraction of the cost, and, likely, with far less bureaucracy involved.
Gone are the days of producing only hard copy brochures and newsletters. They have
a purpose, but if there is no budget, then there is no purpose. E-mail makes all possible: newsletters, brochures andcalendars. Podcasts. Contemporary tools such as Facebook and Twitter have
re-shaped the way we accept interacting with one another. Facebook Forums and Twitter
TownHall Meetings are among the numerous ways to activate technology for invigorating a
Let’s be clear, I am not talking about “spin”. I am talking about straight forward information to kill rumors and resentment, while boosting confidence and participation among taxpayers. Sure, spin has a place in the worlds of governance and politics. But, voters and taxpayers need more, as do government officials, to find comfort and success. Further, research shows that voters do not resent paying for the services they want. (The Lansing State Journal, Chris Owen and James Hill: “Research shows voters will pay for service”, August 31, 2012)
Adapting to and managing change has consequences. Smaller, more effective government – especially, at the local level – is a non-partisan issue. Change and change management works when it’s understood by stakeholders. Only good, clear, impactful communication will help make that happen.