Improve and expand city communications and coordination—including inter-department, public, and among area organizations.
Many people in Cleveland Heights can tell you about frustrating experiences with City Hall. Whether it’s trying to navigate the Point-of-Sale process to sell a house, or figuring out what’s going on with bulk trash pickup, or wanting to know what’s happening when there’s a power outage, or simply needing a question answered and waiting too long for a response—poor communications and coordination at City Hall leave many people feeling annoyed with our government.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Although improving communications and coordination may require technical changes in our systems and procedures, for any of those reforms to be successful, we will need to build trust and get people’s input every step of the way if we want them to engage and participate.
Cleveland Heights needs a culture shift in communications. And our mayor needs to lead by example.
How I Will Improve City Communications and Coordination:
Website. As our external communications’ home base, the city website is a good place to start. Its architecture needs to be streamlined wherever possible. The information can be reorganized through a user-centric approach—presenting information through the lens of what people need to know rather than the structure of the city government, which makes the user figure out what department handles the issue they have a question about. Conducting an analysis of how people are currently using the site can tell us more about what information needs to be prioritized and how information can be best presented.
Other External Communications. Our local government should be continually letting people know about what’s going on—at City Hall, in the community, and when crises strike. We should be using all media available to us: every major social media platform, the city app and notifications, email, text (when needed), a city blog, and local media outlets. But more than a way for City Hall to broadcast messaging, we can integrate communications with service delivery to create multiple ways for people to let City Hall know about service needs and to keep people informed about the status of service projects.
Although City Hall already has many of these media structures in place, one area where it needs work is increasing resident involvement—getting people to sign up for emails and text alerts, follow the city’s social media accounts, download the app, and so on. We need to find creative ways to build engagement from residents to expand our communications network.
There also needs to be a commitment to responsiveness. When people reach out to anyone at City Hall—whether a representative of a department or an elected official—they should get a timely, adequate response.
Transparency. As mayor, I will shift the communications culture at City Hall to embrace an “open by default” approach to information: all information will be publicly available unless there is a legitimate reason to make an exception. On top of this, all public information will be easy to access, understand, and read in a reasonable amount of time (large documents and long recordings should be accompanied by summaries). Any information or meeting not available to the public will disclose, to the degree possible, the topic that was discussed and will cite which provision of Ohio’s guidelines for Executive Session applies.
Inter-Department Coordination. A well-functioning organization depends upon streamlined and responsive internal communications and a team that is as comfortable calling someone in another department as they are in their own. This is especially important when residents are trying to complete a project that requires working with multiple departments. We must relieve residents of the burden of navigating these processes.
There are many procedures and structures that can be put in place to build inter-department coordination and simplify functions, but we need to first make sure that the tools we implement work for the people who will use them. The process of restructuring how City Hall and its many departments function begins by opening conversations with the people who work there to find out what they need in order to meet our goals—streamlining processes, helping people easily navigate regulational requirements, and so on.
Inter-Organization Coordination. Here in Cleveland Heights, we are fortunate to have many nonprofits, other public organizations, SIDs, and activist groups, as well as our community development corporations, all of which are doing valuable work in our community. City Hall needs to be at the center of this network of organizations to align goals, promote partnership wherever possible, and oversee activities to ensure an equitable distribution of services. The Office of the Mayor needs to be at the vanguard of organizing structured, ongoing communications and coordination both among aligned groups as well as directly with each organization. We need leadership with experience in outreach and organization to build a system of community partnership.
Improving communications and coordination at City Hall begins with our Mayor. Yet it is not something that can be successfully implemented from the top down; rather, it must be built together. It requires perseverance, trust, and good ol’ fashioned people skills.