CityWatch, May 25, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 42
RETHINKING LA - Brown Act be damned, it takes a skilled tracker to
navigate the City of LA's Byzantine process for communicating
announcements, policies, meetings, hearings, agendas and actions.
of the bureaucratic jungle typically develop tracker instincts that
allow them to monitor the subtle signs of City Hall activity and stay
informed of impending actions on behalf of the people.
It shouldn't be that way. It shouldn't require such diligence to
stay informed, to get involved, and to monitor City Hall as it engages
in the business of the people.
Dave Meslin, a Toronto based
artist and activist, contends that typical municipal communications come
wrapped in a web of barriers that alienate everyday people. Meslin
contends that public participation would increase if City Hall employed
the same successful standards for communication that can be found in the
private sector. After all, that's where businesses die if they keep old
customers informed while engaging new customers.
should be completely redesigned as marketing materials," says Meslin,
"instead of the traditional documents that are characterized by small
type, lack of color, lousy graphics (or none at all) and oodles of
It may seem like a tall order to
expect the folks within City Hall to turn into marketing experts
overnight but the evidence demonstrates they already have significant
The hallway to the DWP's cafeteria is crowded with
colorful posters that are tastefully displayed on easels, all announcing
retirement parties and featuring photos and hard to resist invitations
to party one more time with a beloved co-worker.
matters, people know how to throw a party and to invite the guests with
lots of time to prepare. If only those skills were put to work on the
City Hall has a big poster announcing the City
Clerk's road trip to Harrah's Casino. It's colorful, enticing, and has a
big headline announcing the "End-of-Year Celebration."
if the people's business was treated as a celebration rather than an
obligation, we'd see colorful notices that entice instead of confuse.
bulletin boards at City Hall are full of well designed flyers that
clearly communicate car pools in need of passengers, social events in
need of participants, retirement parties in search of celebrants, and
exercise clubs in pursuit of moral support.
Again, they're fun, well designed, and they successfully compete for attention in crowded hallways on cluttered bulletin boards.
skills exist in City Hall, but the habit of erring in favor of the
legal minimum when it comes to announcement, agendas, actions, and
policies has resulted in what Meslin refers to as an insurmountable wall
When it matters, the people within City Hall
have the skills necessary to communicate as if they really wanted you to
know what was going on and why you should be there if the City Council
meetings were given the same enthusiastic billing.
It's up to
the people of LA to demand that City Hall communicate with the public
with the same degree of respect that the carpoolers, the stair masters,
and the bingo junket riders get.