by Travis Mateer
Yesterday’s post about the rush to exploit the death of a child on social media by Missoula County’s Communication Coordinator, Allison Franz, received some criticism from City Council candidate J. Kevin Hunt. In defense of the communication specialists I regard as propagandists for state power, Hunt had this to say:
Additionally, a PIO is not expected to be, and could never be, an expert on the various subjects she is tasked with communicating. If the standard is 100% perfection on the part of both the PIO and the entity supplying the information, no one could ever meet it, including you. That the Health Dept. issued a very prompt correction, is to be commended, not ridiculed. The Health Dept. is not tasked with determining causes and manners of deaths, either, and collects and aggregates data provided to it by physicians and hospitals. If it’s really necessary to persecute someone, you could always seek a copy of the death certificate and query whomever made the determination of cause and manner of death. This is not even determined to be an error at this point, but rather a conclusion that was premature. Where’s the scandal?
This comment is a straw man response to an argument I’ve never made. I’m not claiming public information officers should be experts in all subjects with 100% perfection. That is why I acknowledged our human fallibility at the beginning of the post. Instead I’m criticizing how paid government officials tasked with interfacing with the public to promote government transparency prioritize the use of their time and the topics they are putting on social media blast.
While I try to get information from various agencies about how our local government promotes “public safety”, an article from the Missoula Current highlights how our local government is approaching the communication challenges of the 21st century: MORE MONEY!
First, before getting to the article, I’d like to remind readers about the $46,000 in Tax Increment Financing our local officials tossed at Spider McKnight’s consulting firm, Six Pony Hitch, to develop a communication plan for MRA. While I haven’t seen the results of that money spent last August, I know we have LOTS of communication specialists doing communication work, like Ginny Merriam for the Mayor’s office, Lydia Arnold for the police and Allison Franz for the County.
Yet, despite all those paid communication professionals, we are being told another $100,000 is needed for our government to be able to effectively inform us lowly citizens of the machinations of said government. From the link:
Citing the advent of digital media and misinformation, members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday considered funding an effort to enhance the city’s communications and outreach, particularly those related to ongoing initiatives.
The one-time budgetary request of roughly $100,000 would enable City Council to “get ahead” of public engagement, provide media briefs, post regularly to social media and prepare public presentations, among other things.
What I bolded should sound VERY familiar to J. Kevin Hunt because it’s the same rationale Mayor Engen used two years ago to justify schedule changes around the public comment opportunity for Nick Checota’s BIG DRIFT. Here’s a trip down memory lane and a portion of Kevin Hunt’s first-hand account from the comment thread:
In his opening remarks, Engen said the reason for “the rush” was that “rumors begin and spread quickly in this town, and I thought we needed to get ahead of the rumors and get this underway” (near-verbatim, from my memory). In my citizen comment (of about five minutes length, the only one from a critic; two others simply told the council to “go for it”), I told Engen that his explanation about “getting ahead of rumors” was a euphemism for “we can’t let the ignorant unwashed public slow us down with their questions.”
We need to remember who we are dealing with in local government when six figure numbers are being thrown around and Bryan Von Rocket Scientist says shit like this:
Council president Bryan von Lossberg said the modern communications landscape has shifted greatly in recent years, moving well beyond what he described as the “pre-Internet era of well-resourced local newspapers, local TV and radio coverage.”
He said citizens receive the majority of their news and government information from online sources, including social media platforms and online news sites “of various degrees of trustworthiness.”
Boy, I really wish Lossberg would specify exactly which online news sites he has a problem with because if one of ’em isn’t the MISSOULA CURRENT then I have a problem with that.
Why? Because I don’t consider a “former” spokesman for the Montana Democratic party to be a trustworthy source of objective information.
To back up this awkward fact, here’s a 2012 post from Flathead Memo that quotes an article featuring Kidston in his former political role. To get the full context about what kind of “kinks in the pipe” Kidston is talking about, go to the link.
Democrats were frank about the funding connection.
“You’re right, there’s not too many kinks in that pipe,” said Martin Kidston, Montana Democratic Party spokesperson.
Again, without specificity from the Rocket Scientist, I can only speculate as to which online news sites he finds troubling, but I think it’s safe to say it’s probably NOT the one he’s being quoted in.
Now, here’s more “reporting” from Kidston’s virtual rag regarding the “need” to throw $100,000 dollars at this alleged communication problem:
The city has embarked a wide number of initiatives, though it rarely promotes them publicly. That has led to frustration among some council members who believe the work undertaken by the city, including its housing efforts, police reform and infrastructure goals, aren’t getting through to the public.
As a result, Von Lossberg and other council members believe the city is missing out on opportunities to engage with the public on various initiatives and arm the public with what council members described as factual information.
“I spend a huge amount of time communicating. A lot of times, it’s basic correction because there is a lot of misinformation out there from a variety of sources,” said council member Gwen Jones. “It goes to a larger communications issue in general. We’ve got some things to think about in the budget that are going in that direction. We’re always behind instead of ahead.”
Only spanking-new residents, amnesiacs, and people with cognitive decline will be able to read this drivel and come away with the impression that our elected officials actually WANT to engage with the public.
Anyone with functioning brain cells who has lived in Missoula for more than a two years might recall how von Rocket Scientist and Pitbull Jones dealt with the public during the anti-TIF uprising, and if you DO NOT recall any of that, well, I’m going to do my best to remind my fellow citizens about what exactly was going down before the pandemic allowed our elected officials to retreat to virtual meetings.
I hope those involved in that fight remember what we are up against.