BOWIE – One of city manager Alfred Lott’s earliest assignments is now complete.
When Lott took over in Bowie, the city council tasked him with developing a communications plan for the city spelling out how staff would send out important information to residents. At Monday night’s city council meeting, Lott presented the draft plan for council review.
“I heard the residents on the third of January, and I intend, and we on the staff intend, to communicate effectively with them, even moreso in the future,” he said. “And we thought about it, we planned it out, and we thought up a system to make it happen. We’re excited about it.”
Lott said other factors leading to the creation of the plan included complaints by citizens about a perceived lack of transparency in the city, and Bowie’s attractiveness to developers.
The 19-page plan describes new standard procedures for reaching out to the public about upcoming events, meetings, police activity, maintenance projects and more. Each type of event, from council meetings to annexation proceedings to festivals to public works activities, has a procedure identified for getting information out to residents.
The city’s communications department will play a lead role in implementing the plan, and Lott said the city has almost completed the process of hiring a new communications analyst to boost capacity in the department. But the plan calls on all other city departments to play a role as well, either by informing the communications shop or by communicating with the public directly.
“The city departments will also have particular requirements to get this plan to work,” Lott said. “For every particular assignment, there is a department in the city that’s responsible and accountable to me for the implementation and making certain that they meet their requirements.
“For example, each city department is required to notify the communications division when an event is going to happen and, at a minimum, providing the who, what, where and how of an event so we can notify and communicate with our residents.”
Each department will also identify a staff person who will focus on communications to identify newsworthy events and coordinate with the city communications department staff.
In addition to the typical procedures, the plan includes contingencies for enhanced outreach in the case of happenings that would garner “extraordinary interest” from the public to make sure the word gets out.
Methods of communication discussed include newsletters, the city website, social media like Facebook and Twitter, signs, news media and even radio.
“The mission of this particular plan is for the city of Bowie to utilize all available methods of communication to inform its residents of essential information,” Lott said. “My objective here is to make sure that we don’t miss anybody because somebody doesn’t have a computer or somebody doesn’t have a smart phone. But they read the bulletin board, or they read the Bowie Blade, they’re going to get that information.”
The plan also includes an internal notification policy to inform city employees about critical information during emergencies.
The city council heaped praise upon Lott and the plan. Councilman Isaac Trouth, a strong advocate for creating the plan, said the draft was exactly what he wanted.
“I sent out a list of things, and these are the list of things that I had sent to you,” he said. “This is outstanding. This is excellent. This is exactly what we were looking for.”
However, Trouth also suggested adding a “Did You Know?” section to some city communications to convey information about things that may not be specific events or activities but more general information about the city and what it has to offer.
Mayor G. Frederick Robinson said he would like more tailored news alerts sent to community groups, homeowners’ associations and houses of worship to reach a lot of people with one effort. He also wanted to know about sending specific information to communities that would find it most relevant.
“Maybe there’s some way that you could segregate out those communities that might be, for want of a better term, some kind of special attention community – medical facility, senior facility, what have you. So they could get special blasts, too, that might be just unique to them,” he said.
Although the plan has just been formally developed, several councilmembers pointed out that city staff have been more proactive about publicizing events and meetings of interest lately.
“I’m hearing from our residents that they are noticing this, especially message alerts, the social media presence, even our presence on Nextdoor and other sites that residents are getting active on. And they really appreciate that, and I really appreciate that,” he said. “There’s a difference between being transparent and being proactive in informing folks, and in a 21st century context we have to lean much more towards the latter. We have to go that extra mile, and it’s a challenge, but one the city seems to be tackling enthusiastically.”
Lott said he intends to begin full implementation of the plan by Sept. 1.