South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Crestwood looks to improve communication with citizens

Second in a series on Crestwood’s strategic planning

While Crestwood aldermen last week discussed ways to improve the city’s communication with residents, they also spoke during a two-day strategic-planning session about how to better handle feedback they already are receiving.

Among more than 25 goals aldermen proposed during last week’s strategic-planning sessions was a call to better communicate with residents.

Board of Aldermen President Gregg Roby of Ward 3 proposed updating the city’s Web site to make it easier to find information and possibly expanding the city’s bimonthly newsletter, Crestwood Connections.

“I’m a big proponent of us improving our communication with the citizens,” he said. “I think our Web site is a little outdated and a little difficult to navigate. I think it should be a little more user friendly … We do currently send out a community newsletter. I think it could be improved upon. Not that it’s not good, but I think that maybe we could add some additional things to that.”

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland also suggested allowing aldermen the opportunity to write messages on the city’s Web site.

To develop more ideas for better communication and proposals to pay for some requested improvements, City Administrator Frank Myers suggested the formation of a citizens committee to study the city’s communication methods. Myers also addressed his frustrations with communicating to the public through a more transparent government and the subsequent reactions to that effort for transparency.

“There’s been an erosion of trust in the city,” Myers said. “There’s been an effort for transparent government, to be very upfront about everything we do. But as you have transparent government, there’s always individuals with agendas that will take that desire for transparency and use it against a group or use it against individuals in a group.

“And that’s where the friction often comes. It’s how do you continue to build that trust with transparent government knowing that there are players that will use those very honorable intentions against you and against the group and really persevering in spite of it?”

Roby also questioned the risk involved with operating more openly and said the city might subject itself to more complaints from residents.

“Any time you’re looking to gain more trust, you’re ex-posing yourself to more risk,” Roby said. “And people keep a lot of things under wraps, so to speak, and no one will ever find out about them. But the more open we are, the more risk there is for things like citizen complaints and things like that.”

At the same time, strategic-planning consultant Bob Saunders — who was hired by the city to facilitate last week’s sessions — said he believes it is more effective to handle issues on a citywide basis rather than evaluate them based on a small percentage of residents who might complain.

“Those folks are contributing mightily to try and create progress in the community,” Saunders said. “But if that’s allowed to take over and that’s where you want to spend all your time and your energy is to placate those folks, guess what? You’re not going to solve too many problems.”

Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel echoed that sentiment.

“There’s 20 percent of the people that are just going to be unhappy all the time,” Pickel said. “And if you spend your time catering to those 20 percent of the people, you’re not going to do much. You’ve got to focus on the other 80 percent.”

While he agreed that officials should take more of a citywide approach to evaluating issues, Bland said he also is concerned that the “20 percent” of residents who speak out on city issues create a “distorted perception” of the community’s feelings.

“The 80 percent is not really what shows up to a lot of our meetings,” Bland said. “The 80 percent of the folks are taking their kids to soccer practice or band practice or wherever they’re taking them. And 20 percent of the folks are coming out not because it’s an opportunity to say: ‘Hey, we appreciate the work you’re doing. We appreciate the direction the city’s going …,’ but to just sit back and take shots. And unfortunately, that’s how it goes sometimes and that’s what gets the media coverage that it gets and then there’s a distorted perception of what’s going on.”

Mayor Roy Robinson said while he believes more residents have grown to appreciate the city’s accomplishments in the past year, he also realizes that, as elected officials, he and aldermen must battle public perceptions.

“There’s always going to be concerns because it’s hard to get over a bad spell where you have distrust of the elected officials,” Robinson said. “And the one thing I’ve always said about being an elected official, the worst part about it is the day you swear in you’re a crook. And it’s unfortunate that that’s the way it is, that that’s the way you’re received … It comes from the national level all the way down. It penetrates right into the local level that you have to have some other reason for being in it or you’re some big shot … it’s hard for them, the normal people who don’t understand government, to understand that you are here to do what’s best as best they can for the community. They lose sight of that.”

Roby also expressed displeasure with residents who have criticized the city’s strategic-planning efforts, yet did not attend last week’s sessions.

Resident Roger Anderson was featured in a TV news report last week criticizing the city’s expense of more than $9,000 for last year’s strategic planning.

“The thing that I find ironic about this evening is just last night on the news there was one of our citizens on TV complaining about the fact that we’re spending money for strategic planning here in this city,” Roby said. “Yet this was published, this was on our Web site and people knew that this meeting was taking place. And yet that person doesn’t find the need to come here and to listen to what it is we’re trying to accomplish. They can only stand in the back and complain about it and discount it … You’ve got people that are constantly going to belittle and complain about your system.

“But yet when the opportunity arises for them to participate and to see just exactly what it is you’re spending money on, they don’t have an interest.”

Bland said he believes aldermen should also remember that, as elected officials, they should be more mindful of what they say because their position demands that accountability.

“One of the biggest changes of sitting on that side versus sitting on the dais is sitting out there you can act however you want and pretty much say whatever you want without any … you don’t have to be responsible,” Bland said. “And if you have a blog, you don’t even have to be truthful. But once you take that oath and you sit up on the dais, you do have some obligations and you do have to conduct yourself differently and sometimes you do have to fight some of those urges to say what you’re really thinking.”

To sum up, Roby said he also finds it best to focus on progress the city could make and communicate that to residents rather than be consumed by negative connotations.

“The bottom line is I think you just have to try to focus on the main body of your citizenry and concentrate on the positives and not the negatives as much as some people would like you to believe that you have to concentrate on,” Roby said. “I mean, we could deal with just one issue in this city.

“And I won’t go into it, but it absolutely has some people just totally wrapped in a knot. And that’s what they live for. But we’ve got to move on.”

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