Local governments are increasingly looking for ways to engage with their citizens — press releases are issued, tweets are posted and strategic plans are developed. All of these mechanisms work, but they often come across as very impersonal.
So that’s why Enderby’s approach is so refreshing.
On a reoccurring basis, it’s not unusual to find a city politician or employee responding directly to questions or issues in the Happens in Enderby, stays forum on Facebook, which is administered by some residents and not the city.
As an example, a woman recently expressed concern that her husband, who is allergic to wasp stings, would be at risk from a nest at the swimming pool.
Within a short bit, chief administrative officer Tate Bengtson had joined the conversation by stating, “I’ll pass this along to the parks and recreation staff for removal tomorrow.”
Bengtson also reached out to the family when he learned the husband was injured. “Ouch! Hopefully his ankle heals soon.”
Uncertainty over how a new Citizens on Patrol program would unfold was also tackled quickly via Facebook.
“There will be a description of volunteer eligibility criteria that will keep pretty close to RCMP requirements. We are in the early stages of reviving the program and a recruitment campaign will commence in a few weeks,” wrote Bengtson July 18.
“Council just gave policy direction to proceed on this last night. Volunteer training will still be done by the RCMP. More information to come.”
And Bengtson was Johnny on the spot when someone raised the lack of public washrooms during the Canada Day parade.
Not only did he identify where washrooms can be found, he stated, “I’ll make a note for the organizing committee debrief. Maybe we can get locations written into the program brochure for next year.”
Not simply left on the sidelines, Mayor Greg McCune also flushed out a few thoughts.
“You are all 100 per cent right. Enderby needs downtown washrooms especially if we continue to host the awesome markets and events. There are lots of challenges but we seem to work through those as they come up. Team work,” he wrote.
In some jurisdictions, authorities use social media simply to provide information and control the message. They don’t openly engage with the public, partly out of a concern that they will become embroiled in a never-ending war of words.
While that can occur, there’s something to be said with being open and approachable. First off, establishing such relationships, even if it’s online, can minimize any conflict. Secondly, none of the issues raised on Facebook were of such a critical nature that they required staff reports to council, policy changes or letters to residents on city letterhead.
Now it’s difficult to know if Enderby’s social media approach would work in a larger community like Vernon, but it would be an interesting experiment to try.
In the end, though, what’s great about the postings from Bengtson and council is it maintains the small town atmosphere Enderby is known for.