Weekly comments from Dale Martin

Dale Martin
City Manager
Fernandina Beach
January 19, 2018 12:01 a.m.

“The City provides information through a variety of sources: traditional and electronic newspapers, the City web site, social media (including Facebook, Instagram, and shortly, Twitter)” Dale Martin

City Manager Dale Martin

A concern that local government officials occasionally hear is that “the City needs to communicate better.” Things have changed since I began my municipal career, but perhaps not apparently for the better.

When I served my first community, the Village of Lexington had a small local newspaper, published once weekly, The Jeffersonian. It was the sole source of information to the community, unless you considered the daily gathering at the Post Office when people collected their mail or at the diner where everyone not only identified what the problems were, but they also had all the answers. The minutes of the Village Council were published in the newspaper, as well as official public notices and articles written by minimal staff. This “primitive” communication was likely similar throughout the small towns across America.

Around 2000, I moved to a larger community. The local newspaper, the Tri-County Times, was published twice weekly. If I remember correctly, the Friday edition of the local newspaper was distributed for free, but a paid subscription was needed to have the Wednesday edition delivered. A regional newspaper, the Flint Journal, was published daily. Coverage of my small town was very limited in the larger paper, but like Lexington, government meetings and notices were regularly published in the local paper.

Since most of my service has been in small towns, the newspaper coverage, and the related communication from the town, has been consistent- local paper covers local community. Larger metropolitan or regional newspapers would make a rare visit or telephone call only when something noteworthy (at least in their minds) occurred.

In Connecticut, my town of roughly the same size as Fernandina Beach and nearly as distant from a larger city, was actually covered by three newspapers: two daily publications (with both headquartered in a slightly larger city with which had a common border) and a local weekly. Additionally, the Hartford Courant covered the entire state (it really is a small state). It seemed as if I was always talking to reporters!

Somewhere along my career path, electronic communications were introduced and new methods were available to provide information.

With these new communications (at the tips of our fingers, no less), it would seem as if communication would be easier. It appears, however, that this diversity and abundance of communication has actually made it more difficult from the sender’s perspective.

The City provides information through a variety of sources: traditional and electronic newspapers, the City web site, social media (including Facebook, Instagram, and shortly, Twitter). People (from around the world!) can subscribe to receive email notifications when meeting agendas for nearly every commission or board agenda is published. With infrequent and rare exception, City Commission meetings are televised live and made available for viewing afterwards. So why do people contend that the City doesn’t communicate?

My theory is that not only has communication become diversified, it has become fractured. People have become dependent upon receiving news or information on their terms. When only one newspaper provided the information, it was simple to find; with electronic media, people seek alternative sources of information and if it is not provided easily and instantaneously, it leads to “lack of communication.”

Consider how many local Facebook groups exist- possibly dozens related to Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, Yulee, and Nassau County. These sites are typically second-hand sources of information. In some instances, questions or requests are incessantly repeated because few actually take the time to read lengthy threads to realize that the question, request, or comment has been asked and answered (and, as was recently brought to my attention, recognizing that the issue was originally posted months, if not years, ago).

The information related to City and County government activities, events, and issues is available. It simply takes a little bit of initiative to obtain the information. To make it easy in this electronic information age, bookmark those relevant sites, “like” or “follow” official government pages on social media, or, even be “old-fashioned” and simply read the newspaper. The recent citizen survey of Fernandina Beach residents indicated that 92% consider the local PRINTED newspaper as at least a minor source of information (followed by the City’s web site at 87%). If you want information, it is available.

The City and Nassau County provide reasonable access to information regarding local government operations. If you have questions on how to get that information, ask, and staff will gladly share with you how to get the information that you seek.

Share this story!