Failure to Communicate
As the Warden in “Cool Hand Luke” famously said to Luke, “What we have here is failure to communicate.”
It didn’t end well for Luke. And it’s not going well for Santa Monica residents. The majority of our elected representatives stopped listening to us some time ago, and began listening exclusively to their staffs.
The proofs are all around us – from our shrinking “urban forest” to the school district’s dysfunctional special education program.
But the staffs apparently don’t have much to say, so they ring consultants in to advise the elected officials, who almost always take their advice because it’s very expensive. The fly in the Jell-O is that the imported “experts” don’t know anything about Santa Monica. They rush in, are briefed by the staff, may take a quick tour, and, then, offer their standard one-theory-fits-all advice. That’s why, though Santa Monica is a small beach town, “urban form” is the throughline in the City’s latest land use plans, and why virtually every intersection in downtown Santa Monica and on the boulevards will soon be a “gateway.”
Neither “urban form” nor a plethora of “gateways” are on any rational resident’s list of priorities, but they’re hot in uber-planning circles at the moment, and so, if the hired guns prevail, we will have them.
In the same spirit, according to a story In the Santa Monica Daily Press, “The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District might be one of the best organizations of its kind in the state but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t use some help in communicating that assessment.
“That’s according to a recent audit of the district’s communication practices, techniques and approaches, finding that while there isn’t necessarily a problem with the way officials are disseminating information and keeping its employees and community in the loop, there are plenty of opportunities for improvement…
“Tom DeLapp of Communication Resources for Schools, which conducted the audit, recommended that the district hire a communications officer to not only disseminate releases to media outlets, but to serve as the point person for information between district employees, making sure that everyone is on the same page…
“Understand that customer service is the front line of communication, DeLapp said…”
In the best consultant tradition, DeLapp flattered the client — in this instance, the District – underestimated the problem, offered the standard solution – spend money, and, in all those ways, he failed to understand, much less address the District’s problems.
The District could have saved a lot of time and money by asking me or any working journalist for an assessment and/or advice.
In more than ten years on the beat, I have found the District to be approximately as communicative as, say, a stone. It seems to operate on the assumption that though it’s a public institution, the public has no right to know what it’s up to.
The School Board agendas are masterpieces of obfuscation. The
District website is useless. Most officials don’t return phone calls, assuming you can work your way through the District’s Byzantine phone system to their voicemail.
The District is in urgent need of an information officer who knows the communities and the district, has the authority to speak freely, fully and truthfully to the media and/or District residents about everything that happens in the District – good, bad or terrible, and never refers to people as “human resources.”
If District staff people can’t figure out how to communicate with each other, they should probably be in some other line os work.
In the same way, if the City and School District staffs and our elected representatives on the School Board and the City Council can’t listen, hear and heed residents, they should withdraw from public life.
Contrary to DeLapp’s statement, residents are not “customers,” they are owners.