While I was checking our VISA statement against our credit card receipts this evening, a task that doesn't consume all of my cognitive assets, I was idly thinking about what I'd like to say to the Salem Mayor and City Council the next time I testify at a council meeting.
(Yeah, I know, I'm weird.)
Wanting to throw in some positive observations and advice about the City's often-shaky P.R. and communications efforts, I was mentally rehearsing some lines regarding how postings on the City of Salem Facebook page have improved.
But then another thought came to mind: No, wait. They were much better for a while, but now they've gone back to blah.
I notice stuff like this, writing style and such, because that's been a prime focus of my life since I was a kid -- writing.
I'm not sure when the City of Salem Facebook page came into existence. I believe it wasn't long ago. For a while I didn't give it much attention, figuring it would just be filled with boring stuff written to put City officials in as positive a light as possible.
However, as time went on I found myself complimenting the Facebook posts to my fellow local liberal political activists, who usually don't have much good to say about what our right-wing Mayor and city council majority are up to.
"The posts are well-written, balanced, and informative," I'd say to them. "Something has changed with City of Salem communications. I can actually read a post about something controversial, such as planning for the new police facility, and not feel like I was reading a City of Salem spin-doctored press release."
I felt that Michael Rose was largely, if not entirely, responsible for the improvements.
I knew that he'd gone to work for the City of Salem after being let go by the Statesman Journal newspaper as part of their New Journalism Strategy: "fire experienced competent reporters who make a decent salary and hire inexperienced people who will write for cheap."
So I paused my bill-paying duties to see if I could learn whether Rose was still with the City of Salem. Some brief Googling led me to his Linked In profile. Where I read:
Public Relations Coordinator
City of Salem, Oregon
December 2014 – August 2015 (9 months) Salem, Ore.
Provided accurate communications to the media and public under the direction of the Salem City Manager and Salem City Council. Wrote press releases and social media postings, using a style that was engaging and concise. Translated bureaucratic city staff reports into plain language. Posted information on the city's Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as on the FlashAlert website. Served as the city’s media liaison and helped reporters connect with sources and verify information. Advised city staff on preparing for media interviews. Provided a veteran journalist’s perspective to support the city’s goals of increasing transparency and fostering citizen participation. Assisted media and the public at Salem City Council meetings.
That confirmed my suspicions. Michael Rose had been posting on the City's Facebook page until, recently, he stopped working for the City of Salem. I don't know why he left.
I just know that since he's been gone, the Facebook postings have gone way downhill. As has the City's communication activities in general.
For example, last Friday a City of Salem FAQ document was put out after I and others began publicizing a Monday city council meeting agenda item involving a possible ban on early sales of recreational marijuana that otherwise was to start on October 1.
If the document was intended to inform and educate the public about why the City Council was considering a controversial ban on early sales, it didn't succeed.
A FAQ question asked, "Will Council be voting to ban the early sale of recreational marijuana?" The answer said, "No. However, Council will be asked whether they want to ban the early sale of recreational marijuana by medical marijuana dispensaries which could otherwise begin October 1, 2015. If so, action would be taken at the next Council meeting."
That struck me as absurd. The only way early sales can happen is through medical marijuana dispensaries. So the answer was pure P.R., not factual. It should have started out, "Yes, because Council will be asked..."
I'm pretty sure Michael Rose wasn't employed any longer by the City of Salem when the FAQ document was released. An experienced reporter and writer would have realized that honesty and accuracy are key to communicating with the public.
In fact, the whole early sales agenda item drama was a public relations fiasco for the City. There's no way a possible ban on early sales of recreational marijuana should have been sprung upon the public on a Friday with no advance notice, with the City Council vote on whether early sales should be banned or allowed coming up on Monday.
(In my testimony at Monday's council meeting I said the City was the Amazon Prime of marijuana policymaking; a possible ban on early sales is announced on Friday and a vote happens the next business day.)
So I'm already missing Michael Rose. As he says in his Linked In profile, he "provided a veteran journalist’s perspective to support the city’s goals of increasing transparency and fostering citizen participation."
The City of Salem needs someone like him, badly.
That person should do what Rose did: serve as a conduit for accurate, balanced information about what is going on at City Hall, presenting both sides of policy issues when appropriate, rather than simply serving as a P.R. flack for City officials.