It’s hard to understand why the City of Burlington would want to spend $10,000 on outside communications help just to put a positive spin on the messy situation of the Burlington pier construction.
The pier is expected to be completed finally in June following years of problems that date back for more than a decade. The pier was first planned in 2002 and construction started in 2007.
Since then there have been arguments over steel quality and legal battles.
City manager Jeff Fielding suggested the idea of getting extra aid, claiming there are specific areas about the pier, for which city staff do not have expertise, particularly the lawsuits surrounding the project. His idea must still win council approval.
Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward is on the right track when she says the City should be able to present the facts and tell the story itself.
Everybody understands that councillors and City staff are limited in what they can say on the topic of the pier while litigation is going on. But all the public really knows is that there is no pier as yet.and somebody is suing somebody.
During a briefing on the pier a couple of years ago, Mayor Rick Goldring said this following a community services committee meeting.
“City Council listened and asked many questions. Although the content was in closed session due to legal discussions, I can tell you that my colleagues on council are united in their focus on communicating with the community and resolving this long-delayed construction project with the best possible outcome for taxpayers and citizens.”
That doesn’t tell you a whole lot. The public needs to know what the costs have been, what the construction options were and when the battle between the City and contractors is going to be settled.
In November of 2011, the mayor did make an effort to keep Burlingtonians informed about pier developments by inviting the media to walk it and see things first-hand.
The City currently has a full-time manager of public affairs and three full-time communications advisors. That’s more than adequate to gather data and present factual responses to questions.
Increasingly, City Hall seems to be rather empty when I drop in for information.
Last November the entire clerk’s office closed down for a day while its staff was away at an off-site meeting. Marriage licences, death registrations and commissioning could not be obtained.
It’s almost impossible to get answers to telephone questions on a Friday afternoon. It’s unclear whether employees are on flex hours or cutting out early to get a head-start on the weekend.
I’ve experienced a reluctance by senior management to return calls, despite being given three or four days to do so, as well as fear on the part of junior staff to release information they unjustifiably feel shouldn’t be made public.
By considering outsourcing for extra public relations people, it almost looks like Burlington is building an extra wall around city hall in anticipation of an unprecedented attack from citizens, calculating it’s going to lose the lawsuits big-time.
Instead of wasting money on consultants, the City should focus on streamlining the in-house system of keeping the public and media informed.
Taxpayers deserve it.
By: Denis Gibbons