Tonight I received a compliment on social media about "how well I communicate with residents". As you likely know, I take great pride in being an effective communicator. That is my 'brand' as an administrator, if you will. But the person who commented made it sound like "I" am the only one who is responsible for the Village's efforts. Nothing could be further from the truth and THAT is the beauty of public administration.
In this instance, Adam Schmitt our DPW Supervisor is "running point" with CN's Public Works Department. All information flows through him. Now, depending on the project or its potential community-wide impacts, these are typically the factors which determine who takes "the lead". It can't always be the Administrator for a multitude of reasons and it's important people know that.
Our Administrative Intern Jen Keller makes frequent updates to our website and TV channel. Our website is designed so that it spits out RSS feeds to people's phones who sign up for our notification services. So in essence, Jen helps oversee one of the most important external communication tools we have- our website.
I communicated with the Bark Lake Association, our first responders and the general public via written form and our social media outlets. I take Adam's message and make sure it's easily digestible for the masses. People who think social media is a waste of time are probably the same people who thought consumers wouldn't want "tiny computers" called iPhones in their pockets. Never in the history of local government has communicating with residents been faster, cheaper, or easier. With that though comes the responsibility that you are always one sentence or statement away from being on the nightly news, the top fold of the daily paper, talk radio, or worse, fired. So the buck stops with me in that respect.
Then, another member of our Administrative Team will communicate these closures to the school districts, the school bus company, the four (4) waste haulers who service Richfield, and the USPO because their service delivery will be inconvenienced during this period of time.
Our Front Office Staff communicates the correct information (emphasis added) to people when they call in asking "what's going on" because they are hearing it directly from Adam and seeing the message filtered through one medium or another online.
Last, but certainly not least, our DPW Staff will place construction signage out in advance of the project starting to signal the beginning of construction warnings to daily commuters. So, if they haven't heard about the project, it will at a minimum trigger an acute awareness at some level that may spur self-action.
For better or worse, I don't micromanage our Team here at Village Hall. I work with competent professionals at all levels of our organization. If I was looking over everyone's shoulder all the time we would be a pretty ineffective local government.
For purposes of efficiency and ease of communication, each one of our staff members are trained on the most basic aspects of each other's jobs here at Village Hall. Our Intern learns how roads are constructed so when an upset resident calls and expresses a concern it's easier to communicate our engineering methodology. Our front office assistants administer building permit applications and when someone calls needing a "rough carpentry inspection" they know how much time our inspectors need to do their job properly. The Deputy Treasurer can answer questions on the operations of our Transfer Station or talk about the amenities in our Park System after having taken a walking tour with Annie from the Parks Department. Amongst other things, I ride with snow plowers during the early AM hours over the winter so I can garner a better understanding of just how damn difficult their job can actually be in the most adverse weather conditions. So when residents call because their mailbox got hit in whiteout conditions or their lawn got tore up because it wasn't marked with our free painted lawn sticks, I can communicate how we can partner to avoid these situations in the future without sounding like a "desk jockey" who has never been out in the field.
From Absentee Ballots to Zoning Permits, literally A-Z, the members of our Staff collectively can do it all. That is the strength of a small and responsive local government. The fundamental pillars of the same are, of course, internal and external communication.
With all this being said, please take a moment to watch the below linked video. This is what I'm striving for at Village Hall and what we as an organization CAN achieve: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=OqmdLcyES_Q
If you've seen it before, please oblige me and watch it again. The bottom line is our Village of ~11,385 people rely on us to each be individual leaders and to carry out actions that impact the greatest good for the betterment of the health, safety and welfare of the community. But your leadership doesn't occur in a vacuum and isn't limited to just your time here at Village Hall.
But we are not without error and we shouldn't be afraid to fail!
I make mistakes virtually every day and I am sure my Staff does too at some level. It's how we learn from those mistakes that matters most. However, if the actions of me or any one of my Team fall short in being consistent with the Village Board's stated mission, vision, and values, that is where conflicting external messages become problematic. Once that happens, loss of trust is right behind it.
That's why if you look at our 2017 Village Budget you will see it not only as a financial document but as a policy roadmap we want to share with the public a year ahead of time! For those reasons and many others, that's why we've won the highest national award there is in public finance three (3) years running. It is called the Government Finance Officers Associations's (GFOA) "Distinguished Budget Presentation Award". At its core it is our single most important communication tool we have, our "citizen's budget". Any person, regardless of knowledge in local government could pick up this document and learn everything you could ever want to know about the Village and what we value. If you've never seen it, here it is: http://www.richfieldwi.gov/index.aspx?NID=305
Thank you all for taking the time to read my diatribe. I hope you all have a safe and happy rest of your week.
“Far and away the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” - Theodore Roosevelt
With sincere gratitude,