One month to go: How is the City Council doing on its 2010 communication goals?

Northfield City Council Strategic Direction 2010In early June, the Northfield City Council published its Strategic Direction for 2010 (5-page PDF). Strategic Direction 1 of 3 was: "Continuously improving communication with staff, citizen advisory groups and community."

Let’s take a closer look to see how the Council is doing on these with one month to go.

Goal #1: Develop and implement a communication plan for 2010 Council Goals.

  • 1.1.1 Establish Council Goals.
  • 1.1.2 Communicate Council Goals to staff.
  • 1.1.3 Communicate Council Goals to citizen advisory groups.
  • 1.1.4 Communicate Council Goals to public.

Goal #2 Develop and implement a plan for sustainable citizen communication.

  • 1.2.1 Complete laser fiche project.
  • 1.2.2 Update city website/sustain and improve city website.
  • 1.2.3 Add council pages to website (info, liaisons, map of ward, area of interest).
  • 1.2.4 Consider including social media as part of communications plans.
  • 1.2.5 Establish face-to-face communication plan.
  • 1.2.6 Evaluate cable broadcast.
  • 1.2.7 Consider live streaming.
  • 1.2.8 Maximize print/traditional media use.

Goal #3 Involve citizens/groups in work of the City

  • 1.3.1 Establish book of projects format and approval process.
  • 1.3.2 Establish adopt a park procedure and oversight.


  1. Griff Wigley said:

    I started thinking about this earlier this week when I noticed how badly the first 42 pages of the Council work session packet were composed, and wondering what happened to the $23,000 laserfiche system that was supposed to, in part, benefit the public.

    I don’t see any way for the public to use the laserfiche system (purchased at the end of 2009 with cable TV fund money)  to search Council agendas, packets, and minutes on the city’s website. The City of Faribault has the same system and a click on their home page takes you to it.

    I understand that the laserfiche system will also benefit city staff but the council goal was for it was related to "sustainable citizen communication."

    So thus far, IMHO, Goal 1.2.1 "Complete laser fiche project" has not been met.  I could be wrong.

    December 2, 2010
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    As for social media, I’m not sure if this is a legit City of Northfield Twitter account: CityofNfld

    Automated tweets of RSS feeds from the City of Northfield, MN website. Set up by a frustrated city official who shall remain nameless.

    This City of Northfield Public Works Twitter account is legit: NfldPW

    This PR Twitter account is NOT legit: City_of_Nfld_PR

    December 2, 2010
  3. kiffi summa said:

    “How is the CITY COUNCIL doing on the 2010 communication goals”?
    Well, Griff,I would say, not too well…
    There are a couple of councilors that always seem ready to listen to the public, and constantly talk about better communications, but it is not the majority.
    And the problem seems to be ‘attitude’.

    When the Mayor is running a meeting , and is unwilling to make allowances for flexibility in open mic speeches, I think that’s wrong, i.e. don’t assume someone is going to abuse the system, but politely correct it IF it happens. There was an instance of this in the open mic comments on an item regarding the wind turbines.

    I remember early last year when one of the supervisors of Waterford was commenting at open mic, and was held to the 2-3 minutes, although the applicant/developer got to talk for a much longer time.
    Those are just a couple of examples that I don’t want to go into any more detail about.

    But if citizens are treated as if they are a bother, even minimally, I think it’s wrong. Who does the Council work for? It is a public service position, even if elected.

    The city hall ‘culture’ is often NOT supportive of citizen inquiry, but that varies from dept head to dept head… the women who ‘run’ the ‘second tier’ at city hall are unfailingly polite and very helpful.

    The money being proposed to be spent in communications improvements is mostly for internal projects, and that may very well be more important than external; but there needs to be a mix of both, and more importantly, IMO, there needs to be an attitude that is more welcoming, instead of adversarial.

    Bottom line: there’s lots of different parts to the communications picture; I realize you are mostly concerned with E-aspects of communication, Griff.

    P.S. the ‘adversarial’ nature of some reports from council members or Mayor, is usually at task force or work session situations; people are generally far more careful at a regular council meeting.

    December 5, 2010
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, I’m interested in all aspects of city communications, not just the e-stuff. Many of their 2010 goals were not e-related.

    Your comments about the communications culture or attitude are interesting but for this blog post, I’d prefer to try to do a more objective “yes/no/to what degree” type analysis of the performance on the goals.

    December 6, 2010
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    # 1.2.2 Update city website/sustain and improve city website.

    As far as I know, nothing’s been done about the city website.

    # 1.2.3 Add council pages to website (info, liaisons, map of ward, area of interest).

    Looking at the Council’s web page at:

    I think the only thing that’s been added in the past year has been the link to the Ward/Precinct map. And even that’s botched in the right sidebar: half of it links to the KYMN radio archive.

    # 1.2.4 Consider including social media as part of communications plans.

    The Council discussed social media indirectly when communications about 1) the flood and 2) the website for the Mayor’s Youth Council came up. But nothing formal was ever done that I know of.

    December 7, 2010
  6. Griff, I’d like to redirect the question. I think the goals themselves were too vague: “Consider including social media” for example. We’ve considered it…but we haven’t agreed to pursue some action or drop it altogether.

    From your perspective (and the rest of the readers here), what steps (specific, measurable actions) could or should the Council take to improve communication? How would you suggest we craft our 2011 communications goals (objectives, action steps)?

    Kiffi, I take the attitude (and, I would say, leadership) question seriously. I just don’t have much else to say about it right now.

    December 7, 2010
  7. kiffi summa said:

    Griff… my sense is that the city website, although not spectacular, has gotten more complex and included more ‘stuff’. and there are parts that work perfectly, i.e. the Library ‘functions’, renewing books etc.

    I think you should go in and talk with Brian Welch at City Hall and find out a lot more specificity about what they have done, and are planning. You would understand all that he would tell you, and then you’d have a more factual basis for either complaint or praise.

    Also, given the $$$ crisis, how important is the City’s e-communication, as opposed to $$$ allocated elsewhere?

    December 7, 2010
  8. kiffi summa said:

    Betsey… I know you take all that a councilor does seriously.

    I would hope that the Council might try a different format for goals next year… one that sets broader goals of “common good” for the community, and then measure their activity against those broader more basic goals.

    The current format of point 1. and then points 1.1-1.6 is actually a form which, IMO, allows for smallish “pieces” of goals to be accomplished, and a bunch of those can be accomplished, so it looks like there’s movement, but yet the overall broad goal hasn’t been affected at all.

    That’s kind of hard to explain, but as an example… think of the Council meeting last summer where the Mayor presented each little portion of the Safety Center project as a discrete “piece”, called for a vote on each discrete “piece”, and then at the end of the evening expressed a great sense of accomplishment… while others on the council, and in the audience, felt that a ‘rhinophanterocerous’ had been created… and not a cogent ‘big picture’ animal .

    I’m not meaning to be so critical of the Mayor; I’m being critical of a management process… fracturing the big picture into discrete “pieces” … which , again, IMO, ends up with A picture, but not the “big picture” that takes all the complexity into account.

    I think that process works well for a committee trying to get a bunch of tasks done, but is not the best for public/government process.

    Sorry for digression into goal setting processes, Griff.

    December 7, 2010
  9. Griff Wigley said:

    Betsey, I’d agree that the word ‘consider’ was too vague but several of the sub-goals were quite specific/action oriented and that didn’t seem to matter.

    As for 2011, my suggestion would be to create some Ad Hoc Task Forces to tackle some of these items. Y’all had pretty good luck with the Finance one that just submitted its report. How about a Social Media/City website Ad Hoc Task Force? A Cable TV Ad Hoc Task Force?

    I don’t think you need to spend money on consultants for this. Tap the citizenry. Tell them:

    A) their recommendations have to include the budget considerations.

    B) they must use social media technologies throughout their life spans to model their use on how to get things done while engaging the citizenry.

    December 7, 2010
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, I think it’s more important than ever during this budget crisis that citizens and city hall be working together to solve our problems.

    Deliberate and skilled citizen engagement practices (including the e-stuff) are a way to help this happen. The Council’s communication goals for 2010 were 90% one-way/broadcast oriented, not engagement oriented. I think that was a mistake and going into 2011, it’s going to hurt to not have it in place.

    December 7, 2010
  11. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I agree about the importance of communicating with citizens… all of goal #2 is about that, albeit in different areas/ways.

    But there is an attitudinal problem, and until the they prioritize the importance of the goals they set out to do, the basic goal won’t happen very effectively.

    The Council has achieved some of the sub points in #2; but until the entire council prioritizes communication, engagement, whatever you want to call it… with the citizens they work for… it’s not going to make any difference in the ‘baseline’.

    You may find it interesting to read the LLWV’s observer comment on the 12.7 meeting, when it comes out in a day or so.

    December 9, 2010

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