Mayor Joe Fontana has enough on his plate without becoming an editor too, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t stories he wants to share with London residents.
During his recent State of the City address, Fontana announced the creation of City Hall News as a way of sharing information with the public outside of the traditional media sources. The idea is still weeks away from fruition, but Fontana said the believes it will be a bonus to both residents and the local media alike.
“I think one of the biggest responsibilities an institution like local government has is to make sure its citizens know what is happening on an ongoing basis,” Fontana said. “There are a lot of good things we should be talking about.”
Fontana said City Hall News, which would be done at low or no cost by capitalizing on existing infrastructure, would have two facets, one for the mayor and council while the other would extend to civic administration.
The mayor said he has had councillors saying they need to do a better job of communicating and are looking for ways to do just that. But rather than knocking on doors or using the traditional mail system, Fontana said he envisions something that allows for a more direct connection with constituents.
“From my standpoint, we would start off with something like two, half-days a week where councillors and I would have an opportunity to talk directly to our constituents,” Fontana said. “We would talk about matters that are under consideration, decisions we have made or, more importantly, decisions we have to make.”
Fontana said his motivation behind the idea is to make people understand what it is the city does, how tax dollars are utilized in terms of services and investments. From time-to-time, the mayor said, the administration would be able to offer up heads of departments, to speak about anything from parks to highways to even emergency situations such as the flood warnings that went out earlier this week.
“It is an opportunity for communicating. It would be online and through out web, we wouldn’t be producing anything on paper, I don’t want to get into that business,” Fontana said. “I think we need to utilize technology. I have used my town hall meetings as a way of communicating, other members of council are thinking of different things, our administration too.”
Fontana said he doesn’t see City Hall News as a replacement for traditional media. In fact, he said it could become a tool that would help not only the public, but local editors and news directors as well.
“Yes, the media is absolutely crucial and key, but inside this place, we do an awful lot of things,” Fontana said. “That is not to take away from the role of what media does, they do what they need to and that is great. But as an institution, we have to get out as much of that information out as possible.”
Currently, Fontana said, some of the finer details of City Hall News are still being looked at, such as appropriate time, stories and videos that can go up immediately. While it is just a matter of “putting the meat on the bones,” Fontana said, he added his expectation would be to have something ready in “a couple of weeks.”
That timeline matches up well with the administration’s expectations around City Hall News as well.
Rob Paynter, manager of corporate communications, said that although Fontana brought up City Hall News at the State of the City Address, it is actually an idea that has been discussed internally for “a while.” Those discussions, Paynter said, grew out of the administration’s commitment to improving its own community engagement initiatives.
City Hall News, Paynter said, would give the public an easier access to information while also providing them with a vehicle to provide feedback as well.
“The mayor is right, a lot of things don’t get reported because people don’t find it newsworthy,” Paynter said. “Frankly, there is a whole range of things the city should let people know about.”
While one component of City Hall News would be to offer time up to the mayor and councillors, Paynter said the administration side would be used as a series of how to’s for the public to take advantage of. One of the things already in the planning stages, Paynter said, is having administration produce a series of videos, at no cost to the city, on everything from how people secure a building permit or even when they need one.
The videos — which could be one or two minutes long — would be one option, but could also be supported by a city eNewsletter. The city has similar resources around golf courses and even Storybook Gardens, so it would be relatively simple, Paynter said, to do another.
“There are fairly easy things we can do pretty quickly. Other forms of engagement might take more time and effort, but I think we can get out of the gate pretty quickly.”
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