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Posted on November 20, 2019 at 10:06 AM by Bryan Obenchain
In the past few years, the City of Minot has made a concerted effort to improve and expand its communications both within the organization and with the members of our community.
This column is part of that ongoing process, and we thank the Minot Daily News for their partnership in allowing us to communicate directly with their readers. Our bi-monthly columns are only part of our overall communications strategy to share accurate and timely information with members of the community.
There are many important projects and vital daily operations going on with the City of Minot, and we understand that it’s difficult for community members to keep up with everything. Often, major construction projects get a lot of attention because of their effect on our daily routines. Bigger projects, like the gathering space or implementation of a new trash collecting system, also capture the community’s attention, for good reason. But there are countless others projects and decisions that may be less obvious but are just as significant to the everyday operation of our municipal government.
More than ever, it’s vital that our community is properly informed.
That’s why we continue to make changes to the methods we use to disseminate information, including adding live broadcasts of City Council meetings on Facebook, YouTube, and on public access television. Council meetings, the City Manager’s monthly report to the Council, and Planning Commission meetings are archived on YouTube, as are other important City meetings. The archive is a valuable tool to utilize if you are looking for information or if you want to catch up on the discussion about a certain topic, like curbside recycling or a proposed building project within the city.
We’re also sharing information in a host of other ways. We’re utilizing social media to provide information to the community, including informational videos about budget discussions, explanations of how departments are structured within the City, and reminders of important upcoming City events. Our electronic bi-monthly City newsletter continues to grow; you can easily join our subscriber list at minotnd.org. In addition to this column, our Fire Department contributes a monthly column focused on public safety and education in The Minot Daily News.
In the past few years, the City has held numerous public town hall events at various locations throughout the City, and we’ve now held two State of the City events to provide updates and information to the community, with another event scheduled for early 2020. Providing accurate and timely information about what’s happening at the City of Minot is one way to help ensure residents remain informed and encourages residents to become part of the overall process.
All of these methods of communication have one thing in common: Accessible and available information. Our goal is to provide as much information as possible in as many different formats as possible to reach the widest audience possible.
And, yet, we know there is more we can do to help the residents of our community remain educated about City projects and events, and be involved in the civic process. As public employees and elected officials, we accept that we answer to the members of our community. In fact, we embrace that responsibility. Despite ill-informed opinions otherwise that you may read online or elsewhere, our community is at the forefront of every decision we make. We’ve openly and repeatedly chronicled the many ways we’ve cut costs and improved multiple processes during the past two budget cycles.
At the City, we know it’s our obligation to provide accurate information, and we remain committed to doing that in as many ways as we can. But just as we accept our responsibility, those seeking information have responsibilities, too. Unfortunately, not everyone chooses to accept that obligation. As I stressed in this column two weeks ago, our goal is to increase civility and accountability in discussions about City topics, both in-person and online.
You, as community members, can help us accomplish that goal. Whether or not you’re aware of it, your role is vital in maintaining and improving the spirit of our community. As part of that role, I ask these things of you:
Remember that Minot is a great city. Are there things that need to be improved? Absolutely. Has the City gone through some difficult years recently? Clearly we have. Are we perfect? No city is. But don’t believe the naysayers who do nothing but complain without adding anything constructive to the conversation, let alone take positive action to help us improve. There are countless progressive and positive things happening in our community, and those who choose to focus solely on the negative are doing all of us a disservice. As we’ve said before, we do not shy away from criticism. Criticism can play a key role in helping us identify and make improvements. But the criticism must be factual. It must be truthful and based in reality in order for it to be taken seriously or be effective in moving the conversation forward.
Be skeptical of claims on social media. Again, just because someone writes a negative comment about the City or our community on social media or some other public platform doesn’t mean it’s true. If you question an online claim or statement about the City or a City-related project, find out for yourself. Minotnd.org is full of contact information for council members, department heads, and other City employees. Ask. We’ll answer.
The truth is out there. The deliberate spreading of misinformation will likely continue among the few vocal critics who know better, but instead choose to perpetuate their self-serving narrative that everything the City of Minot does is wrong, and that our community is destined to fail because of inadequate leadership. It’s simply not true, and don’t be afraid to call them out and shine a light on the falsehoods when you read them. In reality, Minot is full of hard-working people who take great pride in their community, their school systems, their businesses, their homes, and themselves. As individuals, we choose to move forward to make Minot a better place to raise our families. At the City, we will not ignore the intentional denigration of Minot. As a community, we cannot let the trolls tell our story; the truth is too important.
Sincerely, City Hall
Posted on November 4, 2019 at 9:38 AM by Bryan Obenchain
We’ve just enjoyed another friendly and safe Halloween in Minot, and thankfully, the ghouls, ghosts, and goblins are gone until next year. Unfortunately, one all-too-real type of unwelcome character likes to hang around all year.
The troll. Not the one under the bridge; the one on social media.
We all know the negative know-it-alls who all-too-casually spew purposeful misinformation from the safe anonymity of their keyboard, without regard for the damage they do to individuals or to our community as a whole. Call them whatever you want. Sofa trolls. Keyboard warriors. Couch crusaders. They’re all the same.
We’re certainly not afraid of criticism. Discussion surrounding legitimate, rational, fact-based criticism is part of being involved in local government, and it can play a role in ensuring elected officials and government employees remain cognizant of their roles as public servants. But those aren’t the critics we’re talking about.
Just so we’re clear: Those who knowingly undermine the City’s reputation, efforts, and integrity and willfully omit facts to push their own false narratives are a real concern for Minot and virtually every other city, large or small. The uneducated and intentionally misleading statements made on social media, on news media sites, and in letters to the editor have a very real negative effect on our community and on the hundreds of City employees and others who work daily to make Minot a better community.
But, you say, they’re only expressing their opinion. How can that be detrimental to our community? The damaging behavior of these online disruptors manifests itself in several real-life ways, and can unfairly cast a shadow of negativity over all of us.
Business owners considering locating in Minot have asked very specific questions concerning incorrect information about Minot they’ve read online. Yes, it happens.
Individuals and families once potentially relocating to Minot have changed their minds after reading inaccurate or inflammatory information online. It’s very real.
City employees are harassed and threatened online and in person. Snow plow operators have had rocks thrown at them while they’re clearing our City’s streets. Remember that blatant disrespect when you hear one of our department heads discuss the difficulties of filling positions at the City.
A recent letter to the editor, published on Sept. 30, that focused on the Blu on Broadway project is a prime example of this disturbing trend where no one is held accountable for what they say, especially online. The premise of the letter was this question: “Why are we building Blu on Broadway for the homeless people?” The letter writer also claimed that taxpayers would be responsible for snow removal, grass cutting, cleaning, and other maintenance at the Blu on Broadway building.
None of that is true. In fact, the letter was so inaccurate that it should be dismissed entirely. Unfortunately, there are probably some people who may actually believe what the letter said, so let’s set the record straight on this specific issue.
Blu on Broadway, as has been explained in public meetings and several times by the local media, is a private project utilizing some National Disaster Resilience funding that will create more affordable living space for low-to-moderate income families as well as create commercial space. It is not a building for the homeless population, and taxpayers will not be responsible for maintenance, snow removal, or any other ongoing expenses for Blu on Broadway. Those aren’t opinions; they are facts, something the letter writer simply chose to ignore.
We’re not naïve enough to think that calling out the unethical, uninformed, and unaccountable antics of these types of critics will change their behavior. We know better. No matter how much accurate information we provide to those folks, they’ll likely keep pecking away at their keyboards, grasping at relevancy, and posting their biased and incomplete information online – probably in all capital letters.
My challenge, then, is to the overwhelming majority of our community, those who are searching for reliable, accurate information, and aren’t actively seeking ways to intentionally harm their own community.
Be responsible with your actions. We teach this to our children, but all-too-many adults have forgotten their parents’ words of wisdom. It’s easy to hide behind the anonymity of a computer or a phone, but actions have consequences, and words have meaning. Think before you hit send.
Seek the truth through legitimate sources and facts. Perhaps someone in an online discussion claims the City of Minot has 12 plumbing inspectors. Don’t take their word for it. Call the City and get the truth. Facts matter.
Be aware of how false narratives impact our employees. The City is not some nameless, faceless entity that is out to get you. It’s composed of your friends and your neighbors, who are all doing their jobs as best they can and have committed themselves to public service. Imagine being berated – in person and online – simply because you work for the City. Working for a public entity should not make our employees fair game to unwarranted criticism.
Be mindful of how misinformation impacts the outward view of our community. Trust me, many state legislators and officials in federal agencies we partner with are aware of negative opinions about Minot presented online, even if those opinions aren’t based in reality. These intentional and biased anti-Minot comments can have negative impacts on our community and its future as we continue to lobby for federal and state funding to complete things like flood protection and other much-needed infrastructure projects.
Essentially, what I’m asking is this: Let’s all make an effort to promote civility in person and online. It’s OK to disagree with something the City has done or a decision the City Council has made, but it’s not OK to publicly berate or shame those involved in that decision with misleading statements or by intentionally ignoring or omitting the facts.
In our next column, we’ll explore ways the City of Minot is expanding its public information process, how our city government is constantly working to improve its interactions with members of the community, and how the residents of Minot can play a role in the return of civility in our community, and hopefully in the world.
Posted on October 22, 2019 at 4:09 PM by Bryan Obenchain
Two simple words that can create a laundry list of questions and discussion.
For the record, I fully support the effort to buy local, whenever reasonably possible, both in my personal life and in fulfilling my responsibilities as Mayor of Minot and a member of the Minot City Council. We all know supporting local companies has a positive impact on our community. It helps our friends, neighbors, and family members who own and operate local businesses. It helps the community by keeping residents employed by these businesses. And it helps the city because these local businesses pay sales taxes and property taxes, and help make our community a better place to live.
At the City of Minot, as much as we want to support local businesses, it isn’t always easy to accomplish, and sometimes, it simply isn’t possible.
Some funding sources do not allow for a buy local preference, and projects or purchases using those funds must adhere to specific guidelines. Not following those guidelines would subsequently cost taxpayers significantly more for those projects or purchases by eliminating those other funding sources entirely.
A well-intentioned buy local preference can, in some cases, eliminate competition and competitive pricing, as many communities around the country have experienced. If prospective outside bidders are continually outbid because of a buy local preference, they may stop submitting bids, leaving local taxpayers a single, unchallenged option that could cause prices to escalate and raise concerns about quality. For instance, some local companies may not have the necessary expertise or workforce to complete a large construction project within the required timeline, despite being the low bidder.
In the end, government simply does not have the same luxury as private businesses, as taxpayers demand and expect elected officials and City administrators to always be the best stewards of tax dollars. If “local preference” supersedes “lowest responsible bidder,” it very well could impact property taxes and quality of work. If “responsible” is removed, it would also remove the ability for elected officials to hold bidders to a necessary standard of quality.
The issue does not have an easy answer. All factors have to be considered if such a “local preference” is proposed, and what impact it would have on local taxpayers. Perhaps a reasonable “local preference” can be crafted with exclusions for outside funding sources that retains those stipulations while maintaining the “responsible” language to guarantee quality products and reliable work.
Members of the City Council have wrangled with this question for years, and the debate continues. Sure, all things being equal, we prefer to do business with local companies all the time. But things are not always equal, as evidenced by the requirements in using certain funds.
If you believe we should always purchase from a local vendor, how far does that extend? Should we purchase from a local vendor even if the price is higher? If your answer is yes, how much more would you be willing to spend to buy local? Two percent? Five percent? Ten percent? In Minot, I bet that answer would differ greatly depending on who you asked.
Staff members are working with Minot Area Chamber of Commerce members to discuss and debate these issues with the help of City Council Vice President Lisa Olson. The group, called the Buy Local Task Force, hopes to develop a reasonable and fair approach that doesn’t compromise important funding sources but advances the tenets of buying local. The task force’s work will conclude in a recommendation that is expected to come to City Council in December.
Inevitably, the debate comes down to this: Should government entities, when possible, always buy local, or should they try as hard as they can to get the most for the taxpayers’ money, even if that means not buying locally?
You can’t always have it both ways.
You can find more about what’s happening at the City of Minot at minotnd.org, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. We’d also encourage you to sign up for our monthly electronic newsletter on our website.