City affairs columnists have it easy. Local politicians serve up mistakes and miscues like so many softballs at a Blue Jays batting practice. I’m glad we have two daily papers in Winnipeg holding city politicians to account. It’s just too bad when facts get in the way of righteous outrage like they did with Tom Brodbeck’s column in the Winnipeg Sun today.
Brodbeck is famed in political circles for his surly, populist attacks on the misuse of public cash, the laziness of bureaucrats and the general incompetence of society in general. Today, he attacked the city for supposedly increasing its budget for public relations staff and consultants. Citing the increases to salaries to a couple of city staffers, he expressed holy roller indignation over the sheer waste of it all.
Too bad it isn’t true, or at least not wholly true. As I noted here last year, the City of Winnipeg has actually gutted its communications and public relations staff over the past few years, slashing the head count from 20 in 2004 to 4 in 2008 and now it’s down further with the departure of one more senior staffer this summer.
Contrary to what Brodbeck thinks, or doesn’t as the case may be, having a capable communications team is a vital business function these days for corporations and municipalities alike. And no, it’s not about spin. And it’s not just about media relations. As important as it is to have good relations with the media, it’s not all about them. For the city, it’s about communicating about significant issues, policies, regulations and services directly to taxpayers and clients of city services. Whether that’s a website, a brochure, a leisure guide, a tax form, a garbage day calendar or a radio commercial, it’s all important.
Communications departments also take on the job of making sure employees are well informed about a host of issues – from regulations and service issues to employee benefits and right down to department picnics. This kind of thing is vital because it informs people and when people are armed with knowledge, they can do their jobs better. When they’re robbed of it, morale skids, taxpayers complain, and the business of running the city slows to a grind.
Brodbeck’s larger point of how the city’s payroll is rising too quickly is worth examining, but don’t hoist this one on the PR folks, Tom. They’ve already been run through. Perhaps the remaining rump of PR people were paid more because they were doing the jobs of 20?