Why Are City Officials Investing In Community Surveys and Public Relations Services Now?

On Thursday February 11, 2010, Gazette News-Current ran a story titled “Positive changes planned for Xenia in upcoming year.” The story is about city officials’ noble efforts to improve communications between themselves and residents. At the recommendation of city management, Council approved a one-year contract with Columbus-based Avakian Consulting to accomplish it. The idea is to “help residents understand what is going on and how it affects them,” and by doing so, “remove the barriers between residents and their city officials,” according to the Gazette.

Barriers! What barriers?

The answer to that question, at least in part, may be found in exploring the expertise of Avakian Consulting. Among Avakian’s areas of expertise, I found three worthy of consideration. They are in public policy. community research and engagement, as well as municipal funding campaigns. It was these three professional competencies that obviously provided city officials the justification to award Avakian a one year contract worth $25,000.

One logical conclusion that can be made based on the above is city officials are going to use Avakian to help residents see that Xenia really needs to pass the May income tax levy. I base this conclusion on the fact that passing the May levy is a matter of public policy (city officials passed a ballot issue to raise funds); it is also a fact that public policy includes selling the tax increase to Xenia voters (the reason employing Avakian expertise).

One can only hope that Avakian will only get paid if the income tax levy passes.

The above conclusion is further supported by references to the community survey conducted by WSU’s Urban and Public Affairs department at a cost of about $4,000. What the Gazette’s story didn’t mention was the reason for the survey. During a November City Council meeting, city manager Percival stated the purpose of the survey was to determine what taxpayer were willing to spend their money on and use that information to pass the May tax levy. The goal was not just to improve communication with residents, change the bad image of Xenia, or to boost retail downtown. The purpose is to increase taxes, rehire those who were laid off, pay for salaried management’s overtime–itself a form of double-dipping, possibly hire more police and fire fighters, maybe building them new buildings, and if residents are lucky, they might even pave the streets–but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

One can only hope Xenia residents will provide Avakian’s community engaging promos with a grain of healthy yet critical skepticism. It is only their tax dollars city officials are spending to convince them to give them more of their earnings.

I still think providing an annual report to all residents written so that all could understand is the best way to inform the community about what is going on. It would cost about the as the community survey too. Of course, doing so would give residents a true picture of the financial status of city operations. The problem with that is a $1 or 2 million does not seem so dire a need in light of revenue totaling around $30 million, a third of which is paid by water, sewer and sanitation fees and deposited in enterprise funds. Yet, this type of information would make residents as informed as any other stake-holder or investor in corporate finance. The City of Xenia is a municipal corporation.

Oh, did I forget to mention Buxton? XCJ will feature Buxton in a later post.

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