Pique'n Yer Interest 

An open communications strategy is essential

I've managed to stay away from criticizing the municipality since I've started working here, choosing instead to educate the public on how to deal with a crummy roommate and how to kidnap that roommate's dog.

But now the municipality has now gone and done something so backwards in its logic as to yank a young man from his cozy habitation of muted opinion. The RMOW, our local government representing a mere 12,000 residents is introducing a media policy that would see the mayor as the point man for comment on all issues.

New CAO Mike Furey, Mayor Ken Melamed and communications officers handed down the news during a press briefing last week. The former assistant deputy premier (read: entrenched bureaucrat) is bringing to Whistler the communications policy of the provincial government, which, based alone on their bungled strategy in dealing with the HST, is hardly the best example of a functioning communications program. People basically hate the provincial government for being faceless and out of touch with the taxpayers.

And now Furey, based on the orders of council, risks leading the RMOW further down the road toward being completely reviled.

Furey said the strategy is meant to control the international image of Whistler because, while it is still a small town, what happens here is read across the world in media outlets. Under the new strategy, only the mayor can be quoted in the media while staff can no longer be named unless they are directly addressing council in meetings. This strategy is also a way to control the flow of information coming out of the municipal hall as means of repairing its negative reputation.

Unfortunately, cutting off the flow of information will do more harm than good. In dealing with communications people daily, journalists learn a few things about what makes an effective communications strategy. The first thing is for an organization decide on a strategy for tackling issues head on, then secondly to respond swiftly to the media as openly and transparently as possible.

Over the last year, the RMOW has done a lousy job of controlling its message, choosing to take a defensive approach to the hard subjects - pay parking, asphalt plant - rather than tackling them head on.

The RMOW's reputation issues stem from a taxpayer base that feels as though their local government does not have their best interests in mind when make decisions. According to the 2009 RMOW Community Life Tracking Survey (CLTS), only 52 per cent of permanent residents trusted that local decision makers have the best interests of the community in mind when making the decision most of the time. For seasonal residents, the number was 43 per cent.

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