By Trevor Busch
Town council has opted for a community survey to gauge the level of public interest in various communications options being considered by the town.
Following the Nov. 28, 2016, meeting where town council expressed interest in knowing more details on the time and costs involved for administration in regards to implementing communications options for council meetings, research was conducted allowing for the completion of the top five ranked options that would address council’s interest in fostering, “More open communications with citizens that may not be able to attend council meetings.”
“I personally think it’s worth trying out,” said Mayor Henk DeVlieger, speaking at town council’s Feb. 13 regular meeting. “Number one, I know there’s some costs to it, but I feel like transparency is very important, and it gives the people the opportunity to afterwards click on our website and see what council is deciding for them. It’s a small amount of money for getting the public more involved, thinking more positively and seriously about the decisions that are made about the people they elected. It might also create a little more attraction between the public and the councillors if they see how they look after.”
The five options presented to council ranked in order includes audio-visual streaming software in PROVOX, YouTube Live, council highlights posted to social media, live Tweeting, and Facebook Live.
According to administration, with the massive shift in technology over the past decade, council has numerous mediums at their disposal in order to connect with a wider demographic of citizens. Canadian municipalities have started shifting toward more modern avenues of communicating council decisions, which in turn creates a better informed population.
“Is the demand there, though, for this?” questioned Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux.
Town communications co-ordinator Meghan Brennan suggested that would be difficult to determine without actually testing some of the options available.
“To be frank with you, I don’t know that there’s the demand for video, until we try it. I think the interest is there, but I don’t know if that would translate to video itself.”
Coun. Jack Brewin came out in direct opposition to the idea of implementing anything involving a live or archived video stream, insinuating that this could be used against the town by unscrupulous citizens.
“I’m not in favour of doing this. If you get stuff out on live video, or access to it, the little segments they could cut out of each meeting and repeat, repeat, repeat… I’m not really in favour of it. I think the way we’re doing it now is working pretty good. Once you get it out there, it’s out there forever, and they can make some pretty funny videos out of something very simple. I’m looking at our reporter over here, and I think he’s smiling thinking of the fun people could have making videos that they could post to the Internet.”
Coun. Andrew Prokop was the first to raise the idea of using a survey to see if interest existed in the community for various social media options.
“It may be something we ask our residents through a survey or a questionnaire format. Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little bit. I see some benefits, but if you get a response back that 20 per cent are in favour and 80 per cent are not… I appreciate the work that’s been done, but I think maybe that’s the next step before we go any further in that regard.”
Expressing a dim view of social media in general, Coun. Randy Sparks was on the fence with regard to the various proposals presented to council.
“At times when we talk about social media, I have to make sure that I do my best to maintain a level of patience with social media, because I have absolutely no patience with most of social media. I think it’s a real detriment to a lot of people, their lifestyle, how much time they waste on garbage. So I really struggle with it at times because everyone seems to want to know everyone’s business 24 hours a day. I take what Jack has to say, because crazy things happen with things that are on social media. They can take it out of context and do whatever they want with it. Yes, people of the town of Taber have right to know what’s going on inside these council chambers. We supply minutes, people can get minutes. Like Andrew, I’m caught in the middle here. I understand the importance of it, but I also understand the other side, the dark side of social media.”
While in agreement with Sparks’ viewpoint, Brennan pointed out there is value in the town in exercising a measure of control over the message that reaches the eyes and ears of residents.
“I agree with you completely, there is a dark side to social media, where what you say can and will be used against you. My playing devil’s advocate to that is we get the opportunity to control that. If we don’t, people get the opportunity to fill the void. We get to control what we say, and social media is just one tool — it’s not the be-all and the end-all, for sure.”
In agreement with the idea of a public survey, DeVlieger went on to attack the mainstream media and their use of editorials and columns to comment on various issues.
“I do like the idea of feeling out the public. If they’re not interested in it, why do it? Like you said, you’re in control. It’s the same with just the regular newspapers, people make up opinions on what’s published, so it’s a danger everywhere.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas also questioned the level of public interest that might be involved, and whether a survey might help answer some of those questions for council.
“I think it’s a good idea, but we need to know how involved the community want to be in our council meetings. We’ve tried open houses and didn’t get much of a response. I would like to see a little more thought put into this before we go ahead.”
Following discussion, town council voted unanimously (6-0) to direct administration to start the process for a community survey on communications options for the town, with that information to be brought back to town council at a future meeting. Coun. Rick Popadynetz was absent from the meeting.