Is the communications dept. bloated?   

In light of collapsed revenues and a shattered local economy, Grumpy Taxpayer$ is calling on Victoria mayor and council to reassess its financial priorities starting with reallocating resources from its communications department.
The so-called ‘engagement department’ – most city halls simply call it the communications department – is budgeting $1.4 million and 11 staff this year. That’s far more dollars and staff than any comparable jurisdiction in either Greater Victoria and the Lower Mainland.
“Good governance demands that local governments reassess their budget priorities when there’s an economic crisis,” says Stan Bartlett, chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria.
“Could annual savings of $700,000 from communications – $3.5 million over five years – be better spent on increased costs arising from COVID-19?  
Could the money be better spent on rejuvenating small business and retail downtown? How can we better support the tourism industry following news the $130 million cruise ship season is cancelled? How could the money be better spent to rebuild the tax base?”
Taxpayers wonder why functions such as public outreach and open houses can’t be performed by the affected city departments as is the case in other municipalities, says Bartlett. 
In Greater Victoria, the CRD and Saanich also manage significant communication budgets, as do multiple municipalities in the Lower Mainland:   
  • The District of Saanich – with 114,000 residents, a far larger jurisdiction than Victoria – manages with a budget of almost $400,000, including three full-time and one part-time employees
  • The CRD – a far more complex organization servicing 418,000 residents – manages with a budget of $900,000, including five full-time and one part-time staff in its communication department. There could be additional communication costs such as consultation reflected in  departmental budgets. 
  • In the Lower Mainland, a recent CBC investigation of communications staff in Metro Vancouver found that if you’re one of the 11 mid-sized municipalities between 25,000 and 140,000 population, each has a communications team of between three and six peopleThat includes full-time and part-time employees in media relations, corporate communications, social media and marketing positions. 
Available for Media Interviews:
Stan Bartlett, Chair, Grumpy Taxpayer$  
John Treleaven, 1st Vice-chair, Grumpy Taxpayer$ 
250.656.7899, cell 250.588.7899
3 thoughts on “City urged to reallocate resources”
  1. A greater concern might be, not so much the size of the communications department at City Hall, but rather how their communications are very likely to be directed by the “political forces within the City of Victoria” and that a distinct bias of communications will be the result.

    Communications with the taxpayers of Victoria is important, and there are huge demands from these citizens, to obtain a clear picture of “what’s happening at City Hall and how this will impact upon individual lives.”

    My question is; “How can this huge volume of requests for information and the regular information releases pertaining to the activities of Council and bureaucrats/staff, best be handled without sufficient personnel to handle it?”
    Having said that, I personally believe that we are all “at-risk” of being exposed to carefully crafted Media Releases that are designed to sway public opinion and mislead the public.

    Who vets the information being put forward to the taxpayers of Victoria? How can we trust the Civic Politicians who, in the past, have been secretive, dishonest, and manipulative?

  2. While I agree with your analysis I think it leaves out two important factors.

    First is that engagement is the opposite of PR. One develops and communicates an official narrative and pushes it to the public. The other unbiasedly collects opinions from the public and informs policy makers. A PR trained “engagement” dept is actually counterproductive new-speak.

    Second, the “engagement” dept directs their PR at the Mayor and Council. City staff use the PR to create a narrative that “sells” staff actions and priorities to our elected officials. This is less a conscious policy than simply the consequences of having a bloated PR dept. Just as the sword itself begets violence, a PR dept will sell a narrative. That’s what they do. Conflating PR with engagement simply exacerbates the problem.

    This is not just a problem of finances it’s a problem for good democratic governance.

  3. I agree that this number of PR staff is bloated, and I’ll add that the costs go beyond the salaries. It is worth remembering that there were no communications staff before the Blue Bridge, when Mayor Dean Fortin hired a department to manage the fall-out. Are we really better off now than before?

    I would argue that these PR staff actually cost the city millions more when it came to the Crystal Pool project because they hindered communication (after all their training is to deflect or spin bad news to improve an employer’s image, not reveal bad news to let citizens tackle a conflict). Our city’s “engagement” staff projected an illusion, or a sales job if you will, that they were consulting the public. But they were actually making ads with Olympians, and consulting with swimmers from outside the taxbase on what tiles to choose — for years! Meanwhile locals were being told their land-use concerns were outside the scope of engagement. The result was the citizens got angrier, and the Mayor and council genuinely had no idea there was any opposition, nevermind risk of derailment happening. It really was a terrible loss of money, building plans, momentum and good will between neighbours.
    A few PR staff probably have a place among staff, say if the city wants to nudge citizens in a particular direction, after knowing what citizens think and want. But as it is, the city is flying blind — and paying for the priviledge.

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