Today’s Buzz is Dan Weinheimer, Routt County
What I’m reading – Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
What I’m watching – College football, Fight on!
What I’m doing – Staining a deck
My morning commute recently got a whole lot worse. There is construction in town that’s limiting the routes that people can take to get to work and causing congestion. It’s really frustrating! Road maintenance projects are tough – they’re expensive, require significant planning, projects can seem to last forever and can be really impactful to everyday life. It’s OK to vent here about all the traffic woes you face, whether they’re occasional or consistent. It sucks…
OK, now get over it and let’s get constructive (pun slightly intended). As I tried to redirect my frustration to something positive, I thought about many things local government can control but I wanted to write about one in particular – public information.
In many cases public engagement before or during road maintenance is not a consideration. Part of the problem I see is that we don’t communicate our process. Some questions I can think of that would be easily addressed through information and engagement include: why do we need to maintain our roads, how do we do the maintenance, why does it take so many people and resources, how did we choose this road, or why on earth did we do maintenance now?
Engagement isn’t perfect – getting attention is hard and imparting necessary information is an inexact science. In my experience, quality outreach is not a one-time or spot thing but a consistent effort that has to be cultural.
In Routt County, we have hundreds of miles of roads and most of those are unpaved gravel roads. Some of these receive winter maintenance (plowing) and others do not. Over the summer and fall we spend a lot of time preparing our roads for winter conditions and repairing the damage done the previous winter. When I arrived to the County we had typically just closed roads with a press advisory that might’ve been posted to our local newspaper. That allowed us to check a communication box and to go about doing the road work – not great work.
In the last two years we have worked with Slate Communications to develop our communication tools and increase our communication consistency. I would admit we are still not doing engagement at a high level but as an organization, Routt County is stepping up it’s game. We have a strategic communication plan, we utilize the tools most organizations like ours (rural counties) have – website, local newspaper, social media, etc.
When we do road construction now we send press advisories about the closure, we include a map of the affected location, we include a sentence or two about how this construction was funded and the purpose of the maintenance, and we post that information on our website and social media.
Our communication program is not perfect, but my hope is that as we grow our sophistication that residents like me will be less surprised by events like construction. I’m not sure that we can control construction impacts but we can help manage expectations and inform community members about governmental activities. Maybe through communication and engagement we will see greater understanding and appreciation for the work government does.