The following is Mayor Jim Bulkley's monthly column that appears in The Columbus Telegram's March 25th, 2023, edition:
Communicating is essential to an effective and informative government. I have said many times that one of our biggest challenges is getting the word out to the public. We must work to inform the public not only of what we are doing but also of what we are thinking of doing. And we need to keep them informed along the way.
In the past, this was easily accomplished by putting information or notices in the newspaper or on the local radio. But that doesn’t cut it today. Sure, that access is still available and they comply with the fulfillment of state statute. But today too many people no longer utilize those means of communication. And because of that, we need to adjust what and how we do things.
The City is moving in this direction. We have a Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts and our City Council meetings are live-streamed. To this end, we recognized the need to have a communication specialist that could actively address the need of keeping the public informed about what is happening in city government. This position was proposed to the Council in this year's early budget requests back in the spring of 2022. The Council recognized the importance of this position and included it in our 2022-23 budget.
The job description was developed and the job was posted. The result was Matt Lindberg was hired as the city’s public communications manager. I am so excited that we were able to attract such a qualified individual to help inform the public and keep us up to date on the happenings around our community.
Matt is a professional journalist; he comes from a newspaper background and has been an active member of the Columbus community. He is excited about all the opportunities that he sees that will help tell the City’s story better. From press releases, many distributed daily to videos, to Facebook postings, many untapped opportunities will start appearing.
Our desire is to get the word out by the most appropriate means available in a timely manner so citizens know what is happening -- Council meeting activity, general city activity, police and fire activity. We want to be the source you look to for what is going on within the city.
And you know what is even better than that? The information given will be accurate! That is correct -- accurate information shared in a timely manner. You add this to the fact that our meetings are open to the public and the point can be made that no one should be able to say “I didn’t know that!” or “When did that happen?”
Getting accurate and time-sensitive information out to the public is paramount. There are entities like the Telegram that provide credible, well-sourced information, and other media outlets in our community that claim to report the news. The reality is they take information released by others and post it to their site and add their “spin” to it. Their intent is to slant the information to their liking and encourage others to respond which many do making irrelevant comments based on inaccurate information.
We have many “keyboard warriors” in our community that are empowered by the ability to hide behind the keyboard and comment on issues they haven’t done their homework on. Making slanted comments and spinning a false narrative is easy when you don’t have to defend what you are saying. Posting erroneous headlines, false accusations, or other misleading information does a disservice to all. And this gives the uninformed an opportunity to comment on issues they are not up to speed on, which results in the spinning of more false narratives.
We must be careful not to let lies and falsehoods become the norm. When negatives are not corrected, they have the opportunity to become viewed as the truth. And that is dangerous. It is the responsibility of all of us to address inaccuracies when we see them. To allow the constant misrepresentation of facts to continue unchallenged is a disservice to all of us.
Our new public communications manager is an excellent start to getting concise, accurate and timely information into the hands of the public. As I said in the beginning, communication is essential. Our means of doing so are constantly changing. We will continue to find new ways to get the word out.
The old ways will continue (newspapers/radio) along with all the new ways (email, Facebook, social media and others). We will continue to do our best at this. At the same time, I challenge all of our citizens to recognize false and misleading information and call it out for what it is.
You might be wondering why I spent my entire monthly column on communicating. Because having an informed public is essential to the success of our community. Nothing burns me more than when someone says “I didn’t know that,” or “when was that decision made?”
Your city government is transparent. We have open meeting laws for a reason. We cannot force people to come to meetings but when we have public hearings on an item and no one is there what are we supposed to think? Here is a unique idea: if anyone has a question or concern how about giving me, our city administrators, or your Council member a call or drop them an email? Or better yet; come to a Council meeting.
Our community has so much going on and the stories need to be told. And when the public understands the reasons behind specific things, they get excited and supportive. We are committed to getting this information out to all of you. And we will continue to find new and better ways to do so.
And coming soon will be a series of articles “City Government 101." We will attempt to explain city government and walk you through the process. From elections to appointments, to spending money, to making resolutions and ordinances, to making and changing city policies. When people are better informed of the process, they understand better. Stay tuned!
Something Good Columbus.