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What we've got here is failure to communicate

Will the real communications director for the City of Brandon please stand up?

Pardon our confusion, but it’s becoming a little difficult to know who’s in charge of communications for the city these days.

On Friday, Brandon city manager Scott Hildebrand issued his second edition of something called “City Facts,” a recently started feature on the city manager’s webpage that seeks to “address public confusion/misconceptions on community matters,” and to dispel “myths and rumours.”

Through his City Facts page, Hildebrand touched upon three topics that might have better belonged in official city press releases. He advised those who still owe property taxes to pay their outstanding amounts to avoid paying additional penalties — and he noted the city has nearly $840,000 in unsettled taxes for 2012, and more than $3.1 million for 2013.

Part of Hildebrand’s new City Facts feature was also highlighted on the city’s regularly updated Council Updates page — which is where the Sun first learned on Friday afternoon that the city was proposing a municipal tax increase of 2.85 per cent for the upcoming fiscal year over the 2013 budget.

That the proposed tax hike didn’t come in the form of a press release or a public council meeting — especially considering this particular city council’s rather rocky history with rolling out tax information to the public — we find particularly strange.

There was no apparent attempt to refine the message by the city communications director, Allison Collins. Doesn’t this kind of public statement fall under her purview?

There was, however, a tweet issued by the City of Brandon — sometime after the Sun began reporting on the issue on Twitter and on our own website — saying Hildebrand “talks back taxes and 2014 budget” in the Friday edition of City Facts.

City Facts was created upon a suggestion by a newly announced advisory council that is meant to provide constructive feedback to the city manager on how the city is doing. That such an advisory council even exists only came to light through this second edition of City Facts, and that leads us to a few questions.

Why would a city manager — in any city — require an advisory council? Isn’t that what actual city councillors are elected to do and a city manager’s departmental staff are paid for?

To be perfectly fair, it’s not out of the ordinary for a manager to seek advice from experts in their field if there is some specific city business that requires it. And we don’t really have a problem with Hildebrand wanting to break out of the city hall bubble to get some public advice.

But if there was advance notice for the creation of such an advisory group, we have not seen it. There has been no official press release issued to note its creation, nor has city council held discussion on the matter.

Neither was this a group brought together to help decide the nuts and bolts and other daily minutiae of keeping a city operational.

From his city manager page on Brandon.ca, Hildebrand spells out his advisory council’s raison d’être:

“One of my goals was to bring together a group of people of different age demographics and from varying walks of life to provide honest, constructive feedback on how they think the City is doing,” Hildebrand wrote. “The group is largely comprised of people I had never met before or had not had direct contact with, but who have an interest in our community.

“The first meeting was held in July, and the second was held this week. Discussion is plentiful and has centred around such topics as growth, taxation, accessibility, volunteerism and infrastructure to name a few.”

There is also no mention of who has been asked to join this council or even how that was decided upon. For all we know this could be some glorified lobby group that suddenly has a direct line into the city manager’s office.

And what exactly are the “myths and rumours” Hildebrand is alluding to? This needs to be explained, for there is a concern that this development could lead to a politicization of city staff.

While the city manager’s role includes, among many other things, a responsibility to stay in tune with the community and seek feedback from that community, it does not include acting as a de facto communications officer/spin doctor.

As far as we’re concerned, the city already has a communications director who was hired to disseminate city “facts” to the masses. We suggest the city might be better served to let her do her job.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 3, 2013

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Will the real communications director for the City of Brandon please stand up?

Pardon our confusion, but it’s becoming a little difficult to know who’s in charge of communications for the city these days.

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Will the real communications director for the City of Brandon please stand up?

Pardon our confusion, but it’s becoming a little difficult to know who’s in charge of communications for the city these days.

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