The City of Abilene website is confusing to navigate, according to everyone I’ve talked to. Everything you need to know is there, maybe… somewhere.
Instead, I recommend the more navigable blog format, recently developed by our current Communications & Media Relations Manager for the City of Abilene, Leah Mazzarelli, a friend from City University.
The City’s website can still be helpful when used with discretion, patience and specificity, but you kind of need to know what you’re looking for already when you search, or what department or departments it’s filed under.
***This is why I share links to very precise parts of the City’s website here on this blog. For instance, there might be two informative sections about the same department in two different locations on the site (as there are with Adaptive Recreation). Or, the listing’s heading is not intuitive at all for the average person. For instance, “Community Services” means what? … to you? … to me?
You can also find videos of city (council, zoning) meetings and such, using the link above.
Which brings me to the below TED talk about civic engagement. The presenter believes that HOW communication is shared by city officialdom (in a confusing and cryptic manner) about things, keeps people from becoming involved in civic matters. His premise is that people are not apathetic about local politics, they just have trouble figuring out what’s going on.
The speaker illustrates what would happen if businesses “advertised” like cities do, when communicating with their citizens. Of course, cities are not commercial interests exactly, but the point of wanting to communicate efficiently and clearly is a good one.
For instance, have you ever seen something like the following?
This is a “Public Notice,” cut-and-pasted from a pdf doc on the City of Abilene website:
Since I’m a member of the public to which this notice is directed, this somehow relates to me. However, I have absolutely no idea what it’s about ~
NOTICE OF OPEN DELIBERATIONS
Pursuant to Section 142.063 of the Texas Local Government Code, this public notice is provided regarding deliberations relating to meeting and conferring between:
Date/Time: Location: Subject:
City of Abilene, Texas and Abilene Police Officers’ Association representatives
August 4, 2014 9:30 a.m. Basement Conference Room, 555 Walnut, Abilene, Texas 79601 Discussion regarding issues or concerns by each side
General Information Applicable to the Meeting
Members of the public are welcome to attend and monitor the deliberations, but active participation in the discussions or presentations is expressly prohibited, unless permitted by the ground rules established between the City and Association representatives. Notwithstanding the open nature of the meetings, Section 551.071 of the Texas Government Code, together with Section 142.063 of the Texas Local Government Code, expressly authorize the City or union representatives to caucus in closed private meetings at any time during the deliberations.
Persons with disabilities who would like special assistance or need special accommodations to participate in this meeting should contact Danette Dunlap, City Secretary, 676-6202 at least forty-eight (48) hours in advance of this meeting.
I hereby certify that the above notice of meeting was posted on the bulletin board at the City Hall of the City of Abilene, Texas on the _____ day of July 2014, at ___________.
_________________________ Danette Dunlap City Secretary
He talks about Media & Engagement, and about how local newspaper or magazine articles about restaurants or plays have contact info embedded in them. Not so, articles about elections or candidates.
So, in order to increase engagement, a news article about possible future sidewalks could have a box/sidebar for example, with dates of the next City Council meeting when the issue would be addressed. A news piece about something to do with the school system, could have info about the next School Board meeting, or statistics and other links to complementary info or past studies about related subjects.
He has some other thought-provoking points to make, but mostly I related to his comments about dismantling obstacles to engagement.
He says an heroic community effort is always: collective, imperfect and voluntary. These are interesting and awesome words, yes?! For us to band together to make efforts to improve our communities, those three things would be good to note .
Leah has established and expanded the City’s facebook page and some helpful information can also be found there.
Sign up for City of Abilene informative mailing lists here.
In addition to learning about communications at City University in April (2014), we also found out more about several collaborations between the city and other entities.
Collaboration is always a concept and endeavor I personally like.
Firstly, we heard about the establishment here in Abilene, of a nursing training branch of the state university in Lubbock. Check out the following link for more info:
I was very impressed and gratified by this endeavor. The cooperation, generosity and focus that it took to get it done has produced a wonderful result, in my opinion. One that many are particularly proud of, and is of significant benefit to our community.
We so-to-speak “met” the mother and baby robots “Michelle” and “Jana Marie,” (don’t call them “dummies!”) which are used by students during training so that they learn “in a way they’ll remember things,” said Bill Davis, simulation specialist.
“Harvey” comes complete with heart sounds, and “Jim Bob” blinks, breathes, bleeds and comes complete with a third arm, for IV and drug dosage practice. These robots provide a chance for trainees to repeat skills while learning, and come at quite a cost. They run anywhere from $35,000 for a child model to $100,000 each, for a complicated adult model. Also, during 3-5 days per month “actors” come in and volunteer to simulate different disorders, including mental illness so that students can get experience that way as well.
We were told that land for the campus in Abilene was 100% funded by foundations, grants and individuals.
The dynamic woman who spoke with us about the school said that Tech is “thrilled to death” with the success of the program and is using it for a model. She also said that Abilene has an encouraging culture and smallness, and a supportive medical community willing to help train students.
The Abilene campus has a School of Nursing, School of Pharmacy and Department of Public Health. We heard about a Certified Registered Nurse Anaesthetist program; an upcoming Biomedical Master’s program; and an accelerated, intense 16-month versus two-year nursing program.
There are regular tours of the campus available to the public.
We also heard from the following:
– The Abilene Chamber of Commerce ~ Jason Smith talked about how 85% of their members have less than 5 employees. He mentioned wanting to encourage more small businesses, and support a bottom-up spring of entrepreneurial people in the city. He also mentioned livability factors.
– The Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau ~ their representative spoke about the fact that most likely, visitors to Abilene are because of sports & finding the right rooms for teams is important. She mentioned “heads in beds.” She said that the friendliness of residents – hellos, directions given, etc. was a big attractor to Abilene. She also mentioned the possibility of a downtown hotel/convention center. The chamber’s focus was on drawing people from outside the city to visit, it appeared.
– 2-1-1:”In many states, dialing “211” provides individuals and families in need with a shortcut through what may be a bewildering maze of health and human service agencies’ phone numbers. By simply dialing 211, those in need of assistance are referred, and sometimes connected, to appropriate agencies and community organizations.” (fcc.gov)
We then had a tour of Frontier Texas! (that exclamation point is a part of its official name).
This concludes my posts about Abilene’s City University program. The whole point of City University was, and is = engagement and collaboration.
During the nine months of hours-long monthly meetings, I did sense an openness and interest from many city employees towards the public. As well as, sincere wishes from employees towards residents — desiring them to be involved in finding and implementing solutions for making our communities better.
Overall, I was so impressed by very, very many ~ who work for “We, the People” (and are “The People”) of Abilene ~ as employees of the City. We met so many who were excellent at their jobs, took great pride in them (those two things do go together!) and had open, respectful and friendly demeanors. There were so many who were unheralded or unknown, but who knew their stuff and were dedicated, and possessed an invaluable sense of humor as well – which is always a bonus.
I think when one works for the City, it’s not to make easy money or to have a flash job. But a lot of really good work is done and I’m grateful; and again, impressed.