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New committee to help Berkley communicate with residents

By: David Wallace | Woodward Talk | Published May 16, 2018

BERKLEY — If there’s one thing Berkley residents have criticized the city for over the past few years, it’s been the area of communications.

In that time, the City Council and city staff have been trying to improve the way Berkley releases information to the public, and the formation of a new committee is an attempt to further that cause.

The Citizens Engagement Advisory Committee was established during the April 16 City Council meeting for the purpose of, according to city documents, “advising the city on matters that will enhance communications between the city and residents, and overcome challenges in connecting with the harder-to-reach segment of the population.”

“We think that this is going to be a useful tool for us as we expand the way that we engage with our citizens,” City Manager Matthew Baumgarten said. “Again, this is not just communication, but this is trying to take the next step and go with full engagement so that (this) is a two-way dialogue that’s not just how we can talk better to the residents. 

“That is also, ‘Are we getting our message out there? Is it being translated clearly? Are we deficient in some matters?’ In a lot of regards, these are our ears in the community, and we’re looking forward to where we can take this particular body,” he said.

The committee will have seven members, with two Communications Advisory Committee members — Natalie Price and Tammy Polk — being appointed to it, leaving five vacancies.

Councilwoman Eileen Steadman said that when city officials looked at the communications committee, it had a different focus than what they wanted. 

“What we really wanted to do was not just communicate, but to engage citizens,” she said.

As stated in the new committee’s policy, the Citizens Engagement Advisory Committee’s function is to “act solely in a fact-finding, recommendatory and advisory capacity to the City Council and city manager, and its duty shall be to identify, consider and study reasonable methods the city can use to communicate with and otherwise engage all residents, including those who don’t have access to digital media such as computers, smartphones (and) tablets.”

The policy also states that the committee functions to review the city’s communications plan annually, recommend enhancements to resident engagement and recommend cost-efficient ways to communicate with all residents.

Baumgarten said the intent of the committee is to keep and maintain a communication plan, and how to tailor messages for different mediums.

“It could very well help us sort of navigate whatever our next step is on social media,” he said. “Facebook right now is a very useful tool, but there are countless different ways that people are communicating now outside of even just Facebook.

“Mayor Pro Tem (Steve) Baker brought up Instagram. Do we need to move heavier into that? Is there something we’re simply not aware of that could help us reach some of our difficult demographics, and how we communicate with those that may not want to hear from us or may not make a real active effort to hear from us, but certainly could benefit from the information that the city is putting out,” he said.

Baumgarten also emphasized that there could be people who could be “voice ambassadors” for the city to talk to friends and neighbors about what the city is doing.

“They stay knowledgeable. They stay up to date on the city’s information,” he said. “They help us get the feedback on making sure that our information’s accurate, but also they’re the ones (having) dialogue and they’re having conversations and they become our ambassadors out in the neighborhoods. Not only are they telling the message, but they’re collecting feedback from their friends and helping us hone our message.”