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Communication problems

The 2010-11 city budget has been finalized and approved by the city council.  That doesn’t mean the people like it.

There was impassioned testimony from citizens at the council session imploring the councilors to assure that the city lives within its means just as the private sector does.

But does it?  Many American households have been in deficit spending mode for years, relying on easy credit cards to pay for the things they didn’t have the cash for.  That’s not an option for the city; it is not allowed to have a deficit—it has to keep its spending within the limits of what revenues come in.

What got a lot of people upset was the information that the 2010 budget showed an increase of almost 10 percent.  How can this be? many people thought.

The city manager and councilors informed the live and TV audience, the general budget actually was less than it was last  year and almost a $1 million less that it was in 2007.  That information was lost in all the budget discussions while it should have been front and center to mollify the residents.

The city has a communications problem.

More and more is heard discouraging words from the public:  the city council is out of control with its spending. Residents will say that if they don’t know that the just-approved budget is actually less than last year.

This illustrates the lack of coherent communication from the city and the council to the citizens of Keizer.  It is not just the budget that has elicited citizen complaints regarding information coming from the city.

In the past citizens have been angered by perceived lack of notice, especially about changes in Area C of Keizer Station.  It is impossible for the city to personally and individually inform citizens with news of budgets or projects.  However, the city can make effective use of news releases and the bully pulpit of public officialdom to get their message out to the public.

The quarterly newsletter the city mails out should be used to tell citizens of proposed ordinances, projects and budgets.  Keizer’s Channel 23 can be utilized to broadcast a weekly update of city news.  The city also should adopt a process in which it erects a sign for every proposed land use project with information about the project, its size, a site map and information about public input.  This mode of communication is relatively inexpensive and is used by many other governments.

Everything the city can do to keep its citizens informed should be done.  An informed citizenry is an engaged citizenry; the aim is not to tamp down input or debate, but to assure that all sides are talking from the same set of facts.