Flunking Communications 101 – A Case Study in how not to engage the Community in a Public Meeting

Just one more in what seems like a never-ending series of NPCA hoof-in-mouth-disease debacles

A Brief Commentary from Linda Babb

Posted September 15th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

‘When you find yourself in a hole – stop digging’ could be the advice the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s communications specialist Michael Reles and Chair Sandy Annunziata should heed.  

Giving twelve days’ notice, on Thursday, August 31, 2017, the NPCA placed a full page ad in a weekly newspaper, Niagara This Week, with a heading for the ad reading;  “Conservation & Community Strategic Plan Review.”

Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board chair and Fort Erie regional councilor Sandy Annunziata, seated in the middle, appears to be making some sort of weird gesture while then-acting CAO Peter Graham, seated to the left and now reportedly no longer with the NPCA, and administrative assistant Lisa Conte, seated to the  right and now reportedly gone or a about to go to another job in the regional government, flank him at an NPCA board meeting last March.

“The NPCA Strategic Plan set forth goals for an organizational transformation.  Now, the 2014 – 2017 Strategic Plan is nearing completion,” the ad went on to say.  “The NPCA needs to hear from our partners, stakeholders, and community.  Have your voice heard by registering to participate in specialized feedback sessions.  Register now to attend.”

In light of consistently negative comments and media coverage regarding the NPCA, lack of information about whether or not they have actually requested the Ontario Auditor General to conduct the full fiscal audit demanded for months, questionable expense claims by Chair Annunziata, allegations of bullying a member of the public and an OPSEU report the NPCA being a “toxic workplace, it is perfectly understandable that the NPCA might wish to improve the image of the organization. 

It would seem a good idea to hold a public meeting to invite their “partners, stakeholders and community” to attend a meeting to “have their voices heard”. 

Interested individuals immediately went to the website to “register to attend” – what a great opportunity to express concerns and make recommendations! 

And yet – on September 8th I received acknowledgement of my interest in attending as follows – “Thank you for your interest in the NPCA Strategic Plan Review.  Due to the overwhelming response, I regret to inform you that the review session is full and we could not reserve a space for you.  Again, thank you for your interest. Should you wish to provide feedback on the 2014-2017 Strategic Plan, you may submit your comments in writing to me. I have attached the outline of how we wish to receive feedback on the Plan should you choose to do so.”

Eager to participate, I then asked for confirmation of the venue – on September 11 the response I received was -“Attendance is limited to only those that have been confirmed.”  I look forward to your written submission.”

Then, at 3.22 pm on September 12, I received, along with many others, an email that read – “On behalf of Sandy Annunziata, Chair of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority Board of Directors, and aligning with his position that all voices should be heard, we have made accommodations to increase the number of attendees at tonight’s Strategic Plan Review meeting.  All those who have registered to attend the meeting will be granted entry and will be able to participate fully in tonight’s discussion. Please be prepared to provide your input on the execution of the 2014-2017 Strategic Plan.”

Within ONE day – the “overwhelming response”, which precluded all others who “registered”, was no longer an impediment!!  How marvellous and how magnanimous of Chair Annunziata! Those who had been denied could now be “granted entry” and how magnanimous of Chair Annunziata!!

One could interpret or respond to this in different ways, but the most glaring observation is that on Monday September 12, MPP Cindy Forster delivered a strong speech at Queens Park in which she roundly condemned the practices of the NPCA. 

Is anyone else making the connection here?  Can anyone else see ‘extreme damage control’ going into effect?  How well did that work? 

A total of about seven people were in attendance!  Unarguably an “overwhelming response.”

As I said initially, when you find yourself in a hole – stop digging.

About Linda Babb – After over ten years in the political arena in the British Columbia Legislature and twenty more in Public Relations, Linda Babb, now a resident of Niagara, is committed to demanding and restoring accountability at all levels of government.

A little late-breaking news on this one from Niagara At Large publisher Doug Draper –

One of the signs that welcomed members of the public outside a meeting of the NPCA board this past spring. What message was being communicated here?

In the wake of all the clamour from Niagara area residents who registered for the September 12th meeting referred to above, only to be told there was no room for them, then later told something else, there are now reports that whoever the flying monkeys are in charge of the NPCA a, have  decided to hold another meeting on or around September, possibly as a way of offering more proof to the old axiom that two wrongs don’t make a right.

As someone who got suckered in to wasting numerous precious volunteer hours some three or four years ago sitting on a committee that made recommendations for the NPCA’s strategic plan on how to better communicate with and engage the public in the Conservation Authority’s work, guess who won’t waste one more precious minute of his going to another one of this body’s meetings? ….

Unless, I get some advance word that the province is finally going to come in and fire the whole upper management and board. I will certainly show up for that one!

         Doug Draper

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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4 responses to “Flunking Communications 101 – A Case Study in how not to engage the Community in a Public Meeting

  1. I hesitate to use words to comment. Instead, imagine a stick person with a stick in each hand shooing away smaller stick persons with pencils and papers for note taking. Sorry folks that’s all.

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  2. Six of us, actually. We were outnumbered by staff and Board members. It was, nevertheless, a most interesting evening.

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  3. So it will be interesting to find out what new position the communication specialist will be promoted to.

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  4. As if wasting billions of taxpayer money wasn’t enough reason for removing the Wynne Government next election, the NPCA is another. The recent expenditure for advertising a meeting that proved to be in some ways a fraudulent promo is just one example of incompetence and overspending for which there is little accountability. Wynne seems intent on ignoring the NPCA thorn in our Regional side. Of course, Wynne’s salary is another thorn for that matter: overpaid for poor delivery to the province.

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