Why council needs to go back to basics and communicate clearly with ratepayers: opinion

THINK tank, influential lobby group, conglomerate of Wagga’s most powerful business owners.

Since its formation in late 2011, the Committee4Wagga (C4W) has forged a reputation as a united and emphatic voice in advancing the prosperity of Wagga.

It strongly rejects claims it is a form of “proxy council”, saying while many of its aims overlap with Wagga City Council, its methodology is vastly different.

C4W is not concerned with service delivery or the “three Rs” – roads, rates and rubbish.

Its focus is on the blue sky above the clouds, things like population growth and once-in-a-generation infrastructure projects.

The group is staunchly apolitical but in recent years, many of its members have been privately critical of council.

For the first time, that frustration can be quantified publicly – and the results are extraordinary.

A survey of C4W members, released to The Daily Advertiser this week, found a staggering 96 per cent of respondents rated council’s ability to communicate important issues as only fair, poor or very poor.

By any measure, this is a damning indictment on a public body that exists solely at the behest of the community it serves.

General manager Alan Eldridge acknowledged council’s communication failures and was in the process of hiring a new chief communications guru when he was abruptly suspended. But he himself must shoulder the blame for at least some of those failures.

In his haste to change the culture of the organisation, Mr Eldridge was so eager to control the message, council’s communication was plunged into an echo chamber.

Internally, the GM blackbanned councillors – who are supposed to be the conduit between council’s operational side and the public – from speaking directly to sector managers.

And he tried to control the media’s pervasive reach by refusing to speak with the DA’s council reporter, only responding with written answers, many of which did not address the questions asked.

His intentions may have been reasonable, but his method was flawed.

And the cost can be measured in reputational damage to council.

The only way to repair it is by mending broken relationships and communicating openly with those that deserve it most – the ratepayers.

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