Monday, October 6, 2014

Bristow Asserts That The Town Of Oro Valley Restricts Access To Information

The Town Of Oro Valley has created barriers to effective resident education and communication by using the town's constituent services coordinate as the public's central access point to information, according to to Oro Valley resident and former council candidate Don Bristow

Bristow voiced his concerns during the "Call To The Audience" portion of last week's town council meeting.

"Planning staff is instructing residents to direct all questions to constituent services." This, noted Bristow, results in chain communications, which is "...known to be a very poor communication process."

Jessica Hynd is Oro Valley's Constituent Services Coordinator (CSC).  She explained her role to one of our readers in a recent mail.  The CSC " a Town employee whose main duty is to address questions and concerns of constituents since the CSC serves as the direct link between the community, Town staff and Council. In order to do so, the CSC records the inquiries and the responses that the CSC provides to the constituent. The CSC works directly with the appropriate staff to draft a response that adequately addresses the person’s inquiry. Consequently, the CSC has general knowledge but is typically not an expert, which explains the reason why the CSC works closely with the experts in drafting responses to constituents."

Hynd further asserts that town staff can receive direct contact from constituents. "However, the CSC position is more appropriate when the amount of inquiries increases. This position ensures that the questions or concerns are documented and answered. It is the Town’s responsibility to adequately address our residents’ questions and concerns, as one of the main tools that makes us successful is the position of CSC."

Bristow asserted just the opposite: ""This office is great for simple inquiries... but is not effective when dealing with the more complex issues such as those inquiries related to planning and zoning situations.""

Bristow noted that businesses and developers have direct access to town planning staff while residents don't!

In addition, Bristow asserts, the manner in which neighborhood meetings on general plan amendments are presented to residents restricts their ability to get a complete picture of the request.
"Neighborhood  meetings that use separate stations [for the discussion of issues], prohibit residents from obtaining the knowledge they need to participate in a decision making process," according to Bristow.   The approach used in neighborhood meetings results in "... poor dissemination of information and effective communication."
We understand what Bristow is talking about.  LOVE is restricted by the Town Of Oro Valley from getting responses directly from Oro Valley employees.  Our only interface is through town communications director Misti Nowak.  Misti, by they way, is very competent and a timely help to us on basic, single focused questions. However, answering more complex questions requires direct contact with the responsible town employee.

We wrote Mayor Hiremath, telling him that we thought we were on an official "do not help" list because we were not allowed to access town personnel.

The Mayor research the situation and responded to us:
"Oro Valley does not carry any official "Do not help" list. That was the most concerning thing that you had said and I wanted to make sure I looked into that first as I, as Mayor, would have been very concerned if a list like that actually existed!! 
Misti was correct in that Town staff does NOT do interviews for PRIVATE blogs. We direct private bloggers to the Town website or encourage them to attend events and write about things they see for themselves. The reason for that is that there are literally dozens and dozens of private blog sites that request interviews with staff and that is just not feasible for us to do."
We responded to the Mayor by telling him that we did not want to argue the point.

We think that this policy is wrong. We know that applying it to LOVE is wrong.  We are a community news source focused only on Oro Valley. We are accessible to all on the internet, so we are not a private blog.


Richard Furash, MBA said...

I have not had any experience with other town agencies but I recently met with Police Chief Sharpe and he mentioned the establishment of a central information point of contact for the town, but he also asserted that he encourages resident to contact him directly either by phone or his office e-mail. I found him to be very open and approachable with this practice, and I appreciate his approach and candor to communication with town residents.

I still strongly advocate the town set up its own blog sites for various departments. and prominently post procedures and protocol for using them on the town web site. As I mentioned in a previous post, many service companies use this communication practice with huge success as it consolidates all inquiries and answers for a particular town agency and greatly eliminates staff having to answer or respond to the same issue for multiple inquiries.

Richard Furash, MBA said...

Having the Constituent Services Coordinator "address questions and concerns of constituents" is fine for simple things such as, "I want to raise the height of my block wall. Are there any town restrictions on this? Do I need a permit?"

But right now, OV residents are dealing with TWO MAJOR GENERAL PLAN AMENDMENT requests (there were three, but one was just withdrawn today!)

NOTE TO BLOGGERS: See what happens when you get involved? You make a difference. The citizens' group, was very vocal and very organized in preventing their rural surroundings from being turned into medium density residential. The applicant backed down today!

Back to the topic. "The CSC works directly with the appropriate staff to draft a response that adequately addresses the person's inquiry." If I already know who the APPROPRIATE STAFF member is, why shouldn't I be able to contact them directly? In this case, the CSC becomes an unnecessary middleman (middleperson?)

Additionally, the "appropriate staff" handed out their business cards at the Neighborhood Meetings addressing these GPA's and told us to contact THEM with any questions or concerns.