Friday, January 29, 2021

Prince Rupert Council desperately needs a communications makeover

When it comes to public Council meetings these days,
for the most part residents have been taken back to the days
of radio, with audio only participation by Council members

The members of Prince Rupert City Council have been giving some attention these last few days towards how they can further engage with the community during these unusual circumstances of COVID.  

The collective seemingly enthusiastic to show of the work done with consultants iPlan in recent months towards the Official Community Plan. 

That wide ranging revision to the current document making for one area of effort where there is some desire to find a way to work through the measures of COVID to share the new version and vision forward.

As we noted yesterday, Council is hopeful of returning to some kind of a community engagement process of a Public Hearing, mulling over the situation at Monday's Council session, though it's a plan that has for now been deferred at least month as they play it by ear to see how the measures from the province evolve.

However, if they want to get a head start on sharing word of their work, they may want to reconsider how they present it every two weeks. 

With the current call it in theme to the meetings put in place with the November 23rd session making for a less than efficient process of providing for the Regular City Council sessions twice a month and an approach that pales in comparison to how other communities keep their residents informed.

For Council their communication strategy of late, is one that appears to have Prince Rupert taking a rather throw back approach to the golden age of radio style of communication.

For those that follow the city's governance through the City of Prince Rupert You Tube video archives, the only instrument of community engagement between Council and its residents has been to have the Mayor and Senior staff gather in the Council Chambers; the mayor seemingly taking on the role of our new talk show host, with the Council members calling in their contributions, some apparently with more to share for the public than others.

In other communities around the Northwest, when it comes to the Regular Council meeting and in some cases a range of other official gatherings, the approach that has been taken is quite varied. 

Some still meet in person or in a hybrid style complete with social distancing measures and public participation by video conference, others follow the same template as Prince Rupert though with some significant changes.

That with the Mayor and senior staff in the Council chamber, but they then  take the communication plan to the current century, with a giant Zoom style wall of Council members and others scheduled to make a presentation on the night brought in with a video stream.

Terrace City Council
District of Kitimat Council
Smithers Town Council

By comparison, Prince Rupert has travelled back in time to the days of the CityTel Party line, with clicks and clacks, lots of ambient noise from the home offices and a less than helpful audio presentation, one that at times leaves some of the contributions of the Council members somewhat lost in translation.

Considering that the City of Prince Rupert is the sole shareholder in a growing Northwest Communication company, the standard of presentation at the moment probably isn't the best advertisement for the city's investment.

As for the continuity of the council session, the audio only concept does not seem to foster much in the way engagement from the Council members. 

While a few do venture into the mix of discussion, since the shift away from the in the building meetings, the participation level of the membership has seen some decline and the opportunity for a flow in back and forth discussion for the most part is lost as council members wait for a cue or a chance to jump in to the mix.

Among the many concerns that the current communication plan provides for, the largest of them is that  the public has been for the most part put to the sidelines since October. 

With the Committee of the Whole process, which allows for public participation either eliminated as it was this month, or reduced to having residents send the corporate administrator a letter or email which she would read out for the record.

As well, the current approach of audio only, and the reticence it seems of some council members to join in on the conversation, means that on any given Council night we have no real indication as to who may or may not be in attendance.

If Social distancing is a concern for City Council, one option may be
to take their Council sessions to a larger venue which offers the space
for the membership to at least gather in person again.

With the COVID Related Measures seemingly to be with us for a fair bit of time yet, City Council should start to consider some new ideas when it comes to providing for the record of their public sessions.

That could mean some consideration to taking the meetings to a larger venue such as the Civic Centre or Lester Centre, where a wider zone of social distancing could be put in place, as well both facilities are also wired up, to allow for the continuation of the streaming of the City Council proceedings.

Or, if they are still of mind to keep some physical distance,  an upgrade to the way the currently do things might be worth considering, taking the plunge and adding video and some way to include the public into the process every two weeks.

The gang's not all here ... Council has been meeting remotely
over the last few months owing to COVID-19

As they do now, they should continue to stream their work live on the city website and perhaps consider using the City of Prince Rupert Facebook feed, much like Smithers does, to provide for wider distribution of the live stream of their public sessions.

On Monday night, Mayor Brain offered up a comment for Council to reflect that he wasn't keen on using such technology as Zoom for Public Hearings, though he didn't expand too much on those hesitations and whether he extends those thoughts to the delivery of Regular Council sessions as well.

Having Prince Rupert's Council members take a tour of the options used by other Northwest communities could provide for an interesting look towards how they have managed to remain engaged with the public. 

The key item of note being the much larger volume of monthly meetings that are held and the length of time Council puts into sessions than those found in Prince Rupert. 

Along with a much wider level of  past material available by way of video archive for the public to review when it comes to that work.

If the Council members want to make sure that they aren't perceived as a distant group that is working often in closed sessions and out of sight of the public; then they may want to actually find a way to be front and centre at least twice a month (if not more) and maybe begin to expand on what they are willing to share with the public.

You can review Monday's Council session from our Council Timeline feature here.

All of our notes on the past Council sessions can be reviewed through our archive page.

A wider overview of past Council Discussions is available on our Council Discussion page




3 comments:

  1. Council has numerous issues in first, second and maybe third reading. The information /documentation is extremely hard to find nor any information on whom to contact with questions. The replies to the questions should be visible to all.

    The mayor speaks of doing stuff right then doesn't.

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  2. Too busy angling for positions with port companies i guess

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  3. Communication works for those who work at it

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