SANTA ANA — The Santa Ana City Council, and staff have come under fire for a while now. So much so, it appears that they are shell shocked and catatonic.
We wrote earlier this week that Real Orange’s reporter David Nazar would be running a story about complaints filed by several Latino and Santa Ana community groups calling for an Orange County Grand Jury investigation of Mayor Miguel Pulido, the City Council, and city managers. Nazar’s report didn’t reveal any new allegations; it didn’t uncover a smoking gun; it simply attempted to present a balanced report on allegations that hag been made. Santa Ana City Hall’s response to this opportunity to clear the air, left me gasping for breath.
Nazar closed his report by pointing out that repeated attempts to get the city to meet with him to discuss the allegations, he was unable to get an interview with the mayor or any member of the city council. To make matters worse, an interview scheduled with the City Manager Dave Ream, was cancelled by Ream the day of the interview.
In handling crisis communications one of the most important things that any individual or group can do is clear the air, to share your side of the story in a way that answers as many questions as possible to clarify your side of the story. Another equally important responsibility is to do no more harm. You will rarely meet this second responsibility with a strategy of silence.
Yet to my dismay, when given a golden opportunity to respond to and possibly knock down negative allegations, the Mayor, City Council, and City Manager, again left public criticism of their conduct unanswered.
At the core of the current allegations is a complaint about the lack of transparency at city hall. The Mayor and Council have previously stated that they support transparency. They claim to be more transparent than most cities. At a council meeting last year the members of the council went to great length to assure the public that they are not the next City of Bell.
While looking up some information about previous Santa Ana Council meetings, I stumbled upon an example of the City actually being transparent in a meaningful way. To my surprise I’ve found that beginning this year, the City is posting the video recording archives of its council meetings online. This is one of those transparency actions that I and other advocates have been asking for. The first meeting to be archived on the city website, was the January 4, 2011 meeting.
At a time when they are being hammered over an apparent lack of transparency, the City failed to take the opportunity to publicise their greatest advance in transparency in the past decade. There has been no press release, no fanfare, no announcement from the city manager, council members, or the mayor. If you’re not digging for it, you won’t find the information, so they have a few steps further to go in making the public aware. But heck, they’ve done something fantastic here and instead of highlighting their progress in the area of transparency, they don’t tell anyone about it.
I understand the tendency to cower under a cone of silence in response to criticism. I understand that the safety of a bubble is appealing, but folks…
SNAP OUT OF IT!
You’ve done something good and transparent here. I can think of no better way to push back against the criticism about lack of transparency, than telling people, and showing people, what you have done, and are doing to address their concerns. When you do that, reporters and pundits both will be likely to give you a break. at a minimum, you’ll probably get some breathing room.