Monday, June 6, 2016

Discussing Vernon's Future: Communication is Key

by Chris Robertson

I am grateful for the interest and positive feedback I received on the introduction of my op-ed series about the upcoming city elections and the future of Vernon. I understand that Vernon is a small town with a lot of family connections, and many people don’t feel comfortable voicing their opinions publicly. Just keep sending me those texts, Facebook messages, and pulling me to the side when you see me in town. I will be happy to be your voice when it comes to asking questions and seeking answers about your concerns for your city government. In my introduction, I wanted to make sure that readers understand my goal. I wanted to give credit where credit is due for the good people working hard to make Vernon better. Now in “Part One,” it is time to start discussing ideas for improvement.

In one of my all-time favorite movies Cool Hand Luke, Captain (Strother Martin) expounds upon the situation by telling Luke (Paul Newman), “What we've got here is failure to communicate.” A lack of communication raises questions where there should be none and leads to distrust and suspicion. Unfortunately, we have a communication problem with our current administration.

I have already stated my case against the way the city sales tax increase was implemented in the past. I have talked to several local business owners since writing that piece and asked them how they learned about the tax increase. All of them told me they read about it in the paper. It is tough for small town businesses to compete against the big boys, and this tax increase made it a little tougher. I understand the need for more funding as costs of infrastructure skyrocket. I’m not even arguing that the tax increase was not justified, but it certainly was not communicated to the community properly. It would not have taken much time or effort for the current administration to meet with local business owners, give a brief explanation of why the increase was necessary, and listen to their concerns. But that did not happen, or at least not with the businesses with whom I spoke. 

I also have concerns about another ongoing communication breakdown, this one relating to the newly developed ambulance service. As this is a hot button issue that some people tend to get a little passionate about, please bear in mind I am discussing the communication about the service and not the service in and of itself. After a recent visit to the courthouse, I learned the County Commission supplied funding to support three months of operations for the ambulance service (my understanding is the Commission has fulfilled that obligation). There has been no mention in City Council notes since early April of how much…if any…support is coming from the city. During my meeting with Judge Rogers last week, he said he was told by Mayor Crawford that Medicare money would be rolling in within the next two weeks. This statement was also made in March. Regardless, if city funds are indeed being used to prop up the service, the amounts and expected duration of the funding should be public knowledge. Councilman Prescott made a motion for funds to be repaid by Oct. 31st of this year during the Feb. 15 meeting, and no recorded mention has been made of the service since that time. Are we funding the service? Were we funding the service? Was the tax increase intended to fund the ambulance service? None of these questions would have to be asked if the information had been presented up front.

There are several ways our city government could improve communications in the future, and I would suggest starting by including more details in the publicly-accessible council notes. Often the notes mention a topic hitting the table followed by, “and then there was some discussion on the matter.” Well, the discussion is often the important information. Since it’s impossible for one to dictate word-for-word discussion, why not record and then transcribe the meeting notes? Above that, the mayor and council members should go out of their way to explain big ticket items, their costs, and the reasons they deem them necessary. It might make the meeting go ten minutes longer, but it could end confusion and speculation. 

Improved communication is my number one hope for Vernon’s new administration. What’s yours? Please keep the discussion going so we can continue moving Vernon forward in the future!

Chris Robertson is a 1985 graduate of LCHS and spent 16 years with Flowers Foods before health issues forced his retirement in 2004. He now devotes his time to his faith, his family, and arguing with "progressives". Follow him on Twitter at @chipinbama 

1 comment:

  1. Good article, Chris. I didn't even know that the city council notes were available online so I think this will be informative to a lot of people. As far as communication, in this modern age, there are lots of free, easy, and fast methods of communication. Are there email listservs or text message procedures for important things that businesses should be notified of?


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