Los Angeles City Hall: Everybody’s Talking, Nobody’s Listening

casino la city hallBrown Act be damned, it takes a skilled tracker to navigate the City of LA’s Byzantine process for communicating announcements, policies, meetings, hearings, agendas and actions.

Veterans of the bureaucratic jungle typically develop tracker instincts that allow them to monitor the subtle signs of Los Angeles City Hall activity and stay informed of impending actions on behalf of the people.

It shouldn’t be that way. It shouldn’t require such diligence to stay informed, to get involved, and to monitor City Hall as it engages in the business of the people.

Dave Meslin, a Toronto-based artist and activist, contends that typical municipal communications come wrapped in a web of barriers that alienate everyday people. Meslin contends that public participation would increase if City Hall employed the same successful standards for communication that can be found in the private sector. After all, that’s where businesses die if they keep old customers informed while engaging new customers.

city watch“Public notices should be completely redesigned as marketing materials,” says Meslin, “instead of the traditional documents that are characterized by small type, lack of color, lousy graphics (or none at all) and oodles of bureaucratic gobbledygook.”

It may seem like a tall order to expect the folks within Los Angeles City Hall to turn into marketing experts overnight but the evidence demonstrates they already have significant skills.

The hallway to the DWP’s cafeteria is crowded with colorful posters that are tastefully displayed on easels, all announcing retirement parties and featuring photos and hard to resist invitations to party one more time with a beloved co-worker.

When it matters, people know how to throw a party and to invite the guests with lots of time to prepare. If only those skills were put to work on the people’s business.

stephen boxCity Hall has a big poster announcing the City Clerk’s road trip to Harrah’s Casino. It’s colorful, enticing, and has a big headline announcing the “End-of-Year Celebration.”

Perhaps if the people’s business was treated as a celebration rather than an obligation, we’d see colorful notices that entice instead of confuse.

The bulletin boards at City Hall are full of well designed flyers that clearly communicate car pools in need of passengers, social events in need of participants, retirement parties in search of celebrants, and exercise clubs in pursuit of moral support.

Again, they’re fun, well designed, and they successfully compete for attention in crowded hallways on cluttered bulletin boards.

dc]T[/dc]he skills exist in City Hall, but the habit of erring in favor of the legal minimum when it comes to announcement, agendas, actions, and policies has resulted in what Meslin refers to as an insurmountable wall of obfuscation.

When it matters, the people within City Hall have the skills necessary to communicate as if they really wanted you to know what was going on and why you should be there if the City Council meetings were given the same enthusiastic billing.

It’s up to the people of LA to demand that City Hall communicate with the public with the same degree of respect that the carpoolers, the stair masters, and the bingo junket riders get.

Stephen Box
CityWatch

Posted: Saturday 26 May 2012

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