ELLSWORTH — David Cole understands what tends to happen when people are not fully informed about a particular topic.
“We’re all human,” said Ellsworth’s city manager, “and we all fill any void in information with the worst scenario possible.”
That is part of the reason he is making a push at City Hall for improved communications: from making sure residents know when meetings are taking place to when a road project will get under way, and a range of subjects in between.
Cole has organized a working group within City Hall, led by Economic Development Director Micki Sumpter, that will work to identify what steps the city can take to improve the flow of information.
This effort comes in the wake of feedback from residents, who during a contentious review process for proposed condominiums on Parcher Street said they felt left out of the loop when it came to what takes place at City Hall.
One of the working group’s top priorities is to improve the city’s website. It wants to add tools that would allow residents to add their names to notification lists, so that they can get emails and/or text messages to let them know about topics they are interested in (such as when the Planning Board meets next).
“People are busy with their daily lives and with work,” Cole said. “We want to make technology work for us.”
The city has already taken steps in that direction. In addition to being broadcast live on the city’s public access television channel, videos of City Council, School Board and Planning Board meetings are posted to the city’s YouTube channel within 24 hours after the meeting.
The city has also stepped up its presence on social media sites such as Facebook, posting news about new hires, surveys that are being conducted and when community events are scheduled to take place.
Cole said his experience with the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT), where he was commissioner for eight years under Governor John Baldacci, taught him that communication can be used to improve everything from public relations to productivity.
Comparing entities such as MDOT and the city to a machine, he said communication “is like the lubricant that keeps the machine going.”
Cole said he has found that the public is more supportive if they know why certain decisions have been made or why something is being done the way it is.
“If you’re going to get the public to support you, they need to understand the why,” he said.
If residents are not told there will be traffic delays as the result of a road project he said, that leads to frustration. If they know in advance the work will be taking place, there may still be traffic delays but they can prepare for that or make alternate plans.
Inside City Hall, Cole said the different departments often end up working together on various issues. Because of that, he said, it is important that accurate information “filters down to everyone on the team.”
Cole said he is also focused on communicating what Ellsworth has to offer to the outside world. He said he has spoken to various civic and business organizations, and intends to keep doing that.
“I think there’s a great story to be told here,” he said. “We need to communicate that and market that out there.”