Sunday, February 03, 2008

What We've Got Here

One of the most memorable lines ever from a movie was delivered by Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke. That line started playing over and over in my mind last Tuesday, because “What we've got here is failure to communicate.” By the end of the day, I was convinced that City Hall continually fails to communicate.

The most obvious example was in Rep. Darby's statement to the joint City Council / Planning Commission meeting. His first words were about how few people in the Real Estate community knew about the meeting or what was being proposed. This was shortly after Planning Staff had asserted they physically visited every property affected by the CG/CH rezoning plan. How can you have City Staff visiting hundreds of properties and not have the owners and tenants know why?

The movie line was again brought to mind as Jim Ryan and I were leaving the meeting. Jim had made another of his periodic calls for an Ombudsman to serve as a single point of contact between city hall and people trying to navigate the red tape involved in any business and construction venture. Shawn Lewis, director of the development services department, wondered why we were still asking for an Ombudsman, when that position was now in existence and had been since a recent reorganization. Neither Jim nor I could remember hearing that, and we both try to pay attention, but we could have missed it. Just to make sure, I asked one of the council men later if he was aware of the Ombudsman, and he was as surprised as I was. We also gave Mr. Lewis a business card and asked for more information. Nothing yet. Look at the development services web page, and find the Ombudsman. The job title is less than informative. I also wonder why neither the City Manager or Mr. Lewis took the opportunity to point out this long needed addition to the city organization chart. Deja Vu. What we've got here is failure to communicate.

City Hall, like most government bureaucracies, needs an effective communications strategy. This strategy needs to be grounded in the basics. First they need to know that effective communication isn't in just one direction. You need to put the information out but there has to be feedback. Every time you put out a message, you need a way to ensure it was received. In radio communication, you have the ”rodger” acknowledging success. In personal communications, there are active listening techniques. In public speaking, there are ways to judge the crowds response. If the snores are getting annoying, you might not be communicating. City Hall can and must employ feedback techniques in any communications strategy. They must identify and actively use feedback mechanisms.

Personal contact is also part of an effective communications strategy. Any time a city employee comes in contact with the public, something is communicated. Everyone realizes that work crews, whether busily fixing a water leak or lazily leaning on a shovel, communicate an image of the City Hall. We must remember that every time a staff member interacts with the public, that is communications. The planning staff was in the field for considerable time studying the CG/CH rezoning. What an opportunity for communication. What would have happened if they had taken the time to hand a one or two page letter to available business and property owners while they were there. Such communications with businesses and property owners would have been a giant positive leap.

In conclusion, it is time for City Hall, and all local government organizations, to develop a communications strategy. “Failure to communicate” needs to be relegated back to movie trivia.


  1. As JWT told you, I gave Mr. Lewis my card, asked him for some details, and promised that I was just as glad to give the city "attaboys" in public as to crticize. Have not heard yet, but if I do, and this is for real, I'll be the first to acknowledge it here.

    JWT was out to make a point, keeping things simple helps that, but he could easily have included SAISD in "a failure to communicate".

    I was able to attend a recent Board meeting where, among other things, they unveiled a new Facilities Committee, charged with coming up with a new bond proposal by August to be put on the November ballot.

    I rose with a simple question, "Was this Committee going to be open to public comment?" Dr. Bonds assured me it was, promised me contact information. The article previous to this is my opening suggestion.

    Among the things I urged SAISD to do was spread the word as loudly and frequently as they could, that this Committee was at work and did want to hear from the voters.

    We haven't heard much lately, but the S-Times had a reader's editorial against a new bond today, and if the commentary is at all representative, it seems not many people know about the new committee or its desire for public input.

    Now, this bond is only the single most important bit of business before SAISD this year, or should it fail, many years to come. Last election made it plain, voters do not trust this Board, at least not enough to give them large sums of money at this point.

    If SAISD seriously wants to pass a bond in November, they have until August to put together a package they can sell. The clock is ticking, somebody needs to get slap serious about curing the Board's "Failure to communicate".

  2. I recently sent the following email to Mr. Ryan to follow up on the question raised regarding my position of Development Coordinator. I'd like to post it here as well for others' information and knowledge.

    Mr. Ryan:
    I have been asked to follow up with you regarding my role as Development Coordinator with the City and give you some information on the new services we have been offering since our reorganization in March of 2007.

    I’ll start with a brief background. The idea of both a Development Review Committee (DRC), and a newly classified position to serve as the City’s first point of contact with development projects (later labeled the ‘Development Coordinator’), were discussed by staff in February and March of 2007. Charlie Kemp was hired for the role in April.

    On Saturday, April 21 of 2007, the San Angelo Standard Times ran a story titled “New businesses focus of plan”. This article can be found at the following link: The article summarized briefly the intent behind the DRC meetings and how the new position of Development Coordinator came into existence.

    Another article ran in the San Angelo Standard Times on Saturday, April 29, of 2007. This story was printed in the “City Confidential” feature and titled “City working to smooth development processes”. This article can be accessed here: I took this position in July of 2007, and after a brief absence, began working earnestly in October of last year. I was introduced to the public at the Development Forum which the City held at the Cactus Hotel on September 25. Some related articles include: and

    Some of my duties include managing the review process, coordinating DRC meetings and disseminating information to the proper staff members, and fielding development questions. My background is in Planning; however, I spent a week in each office within Development Services in an effort to better understand their respective procedures.

    I have worked with small business owners, real estate companies, engineers, architects, and builders. I have also designed a proposed tracking system that we hope to have in place in the next few months. This tracking system would enable anyone with a project submitted to the City to log on via the internet and check the status of the review, read any comments left by staff, and be directed to the appropriate individual in the event a problem has been identified with the project. The website is in the process of being overhauled, and all of our forms and applications are now available online. Also available on the website are handouts which were designed to take the ordinances and put them into easily understandable terms for citizens, explaining the processes, rules, and regulations which apply to a wide variety of subject areas. Another service we now offer is a ‘site analysis’ for proposed projects in the very early stages of planning. These analyses look at a piece of property from the perspectives of all individuals involved in the development process. Included is key features of the property, prospective difficulties in developing the property, procedural or legal requirements, and helpful maps and graphics of the site. Also in the works is a Development Services newsletter, a 2007 Year in Review report, and a Development Handbook. Of course, then there are the DRC meetings I reference above. To date, we have held DRC meetings on 31 different projects. These meetings are explained in many of the articles I have linked to above, as well as our website. These meetings are designed to guide and advise, as well as find viable solutions for, individuals with projects in various stages of development.

    If you have any questions or comments regarding some of the new changes in development I have summarized here, please feel free to contact me personally.

    AJ Fawver, Development Coordinator
    City of San Angelo