Weekly comments from Dale Martin ” . . . more communication platforms . . . yet communication continues to be problematic.”

By Dale Martin
City Manager
Fernandina Beach
May 14, 2021

City Manager Dale Martin

I was approached by an area resident earlier this week with a question: when was the City going to conduct its annual recycling, hazardous waste collection, and shredding event? I regretfully informed the resident that the event had already happened last month (April 18). The event was again successful, with roughly 14,000 pounds of paper shredded; 15,000 pounds of electronics collected; thousands of cans, buckets, and barrels of paints, oils, and other hazardous waste discarded; and nearly 3,500 pounds of food donated. A new addition to the event was a tree giveaway for pre-registered City residents: scores of young trees were distributed. All that in only four hours with limited volunteer assistance.

The demand for the shredding services seemed to be the most prevalent component, and because of that demand, City staff is considering a supplemental shredding-only event later this year. The cost of the full event (approximately $40,000) precludes a two such recycling and hazardous waste collection efforts each year. Thank you for the community support for this effort and to Mr. Jeremiah Glisson and his staff for organizing and executing the annual effort.

My introductory interaction with the resident, though, highlighted an ongoing challenge: how do we and can we effectively communicate with City and area residents? We have more communication platforms than ever before and yet communication continues to be problematic.

Prior to the event, the recycling collection announcement was repeatedly published in the News-Leader and posted online platforms: the Fernandina Observer, the City’s website, and on the City’s Facebook page. The event was also announced in advance at several City Commission meetings.

When the Beach Access Committee (BAC) was formed late last year, similar outreach efforts resulted in about a dozen expressions of interest to serve on the BAC. After the members of the BAC were formally announced, several others indicated that they were not aware of the initial call for volunteers.
With all of those documented efforts, I believe that the City makes a responsible and respectable effort to communicate with residents (and beyond). Traditional City mass communication efforts were formerly limited to local press releases and announcements at City Commission meetings (which were not televised, streamed, or recorded). Another effort was the inclusion of an insert with monthly utility bill mailings.

The communications tools and platforms now are more readily available, acceptable, and diverse. This diversity is evidenced by this year’s legislative battle in Tallahassee regarding the publication of local government public notices. Currently, state statutes (not only in Florida, but in other states, as well) require that notices be published in a local newspaper. The issue is often presented as a growing expense (by local governments) and a lack of transparency (by local print media). The compromise arrived at this year was to simply allow local governments to post notices online as well as continuing the printed requirement.

While it may seem that online platforms are fully acceptable as the predominant method to disseminate information, the responses to a specific question in the City’s 2017 National Citizen Survey belie that assumption. The question asked “How much of a source, if at all, you consider each of the following to be for obtaining information about the City government and its activities, events and services.” The available responses were local print media, City website, word-of-mouth, City Commission and other public meetings, online publications (news sites and blogs), City communications via social media (Facebook, Twitter, others), direct communication with City officials, and the local government television channel.

As a strong testament to the advocacy of local print media (take note, Mr. Maloy and Mr. Bryan), 92% of the respondents indicated that local print media was a source of information. When developing the survey question, it was critical to segregate a “print” media response and an “online” media response, because I wanted to discern if such a difference existed. It did: online news sources and blogs were noted by only 67% of the respondents as a source of information. Only two sources were noted as 50% or more as major sources of information: local print media (56%) and the City’s website (51%).

The City’s website provides tools to receive online notifications of agenda postings (for all boards and commissions), events, and other information. Use the “Notify Me” button located on the City’s home page (primary page) to subscribe to such notifications. Also easily located on the home page is the “Contact Us” button: by clicking on that button, paths to every City department and official are opened, both telephone and email contact information. Interested residents that use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) can also subscribe or follow City efforts on those platforms if preferred.

Thank you for your continuing interest in City efforts. To learn more and stay abreast of those efforts, please consider the several options described.

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