City managers may disagree on some issues, but they have consensus on one thing: City government runs much more effectively when the lines of communication between city hall and residents are open.
“I think one of the most important things we do as a city government is communicate with residents,” Nassau Bay City Manager Chris Reed said. “I’ve learned that the majority of issues that folks get upset about are misunderstandings due to lack of communication.”
Reed said that by far, the most effective way he communicates with Nassau Bay residents is his standing Friday morning coffee meetings. “I have coffee at 10 a.m. on Fridays at Texas Citizens Bank at the corner of NASA Parkway and Saturn Lane. Sometimes people are intimidated to come to city hall and tell me their concerns or try to get a question answered. I get a lot of feedback this way.”
One Friday, Reed learned over coffee that a resident had a problem with faded or abandoned crosswalks. “I hadn’t thought about those crosswalks,” he said. “It was true. Some of them were faded or just weren’t used at all anymore. That conversation with a resident caused me to make a decision about whether to maintain them or paint them over. Some of the stripes were faded and looked bad. We decided to remove them. But I never would have thought about it until someone came and told me.”
Reed said, “People seem very comfortable talking about their concerns in a neutral setting, so if Nassau Bay residents have anything they’d like to discuss, come and find me and tell me about it over coffee.”
Nassau Bay also recently hired Kristi Sykora to be director of communications.
“One of Kristi’s goals is to improve our municipal (cable TV) channel and keep it current,” said Reed. “We also encourage people to join our Facebook page, which we’ve seen get more hits than our website. I think it’s because Facebook allows for two-way communication. People post a question and we can respond to it directly and publicly, so others can see as well.”
Nassau Bay also issues a monthly newsletter with every water bill.
“We’ve got a program called Blackboard Connect, which is the same program CCISD uses,” Reed continued. “Residents can sign up to get on a distribution list of information for anything from emergencies to other information, such as community events. You can get phone, text or email contacts. If you go to our website, click the “notify me” link and you’ll start receiving information.”
Seabrook: More interactive and accessible
“Better communication between Seabrook city management and residents is a top priority for our city manager, Gayle Cook,” said LeaAnn Dearman, Seabrook’s director of communications.
“Three years ago, we updated and redesigned our website, which has helped a lot. We post all our news there, and people can sign up to receive our updates by email, text message or monthly e-newsletter. Residents can receive notifications for meetings and agendas, minutes, and calendar of events information. It’s a great way to keep in touch with everyone.”
Dearman added that Seabrook’s city government has become more accessible and interactive.
“We have a very active Facebook page, as well as Twitter and a YouTube channel, which reaches 5,000 households,” Dearman said. “We’re able to reach our residents directly.”
One of the best ways to communicate with city leaders is the tried-and-true method of attending council meetings.
“Our city council meetings, which are on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, are all open to the public and there’s always a designated public comment time where residents are invited to share their comments,” Dearman said.
Cook depends on one-on-one contact to make things happen.
“It really pays to stay in touch with me,” said Cook. “At the beginning of the school year, after a recent rezoning approval from last year, we heard from residents in the community about concerns on Lakeside Drive with the existing school crossing and an approved project. Our public works department was able to easily move it for a safer and more viable crossing.”
Webster gives ‘individual attention’
“There are only 10,000 residents of Webster, but the service population here is over 150,000, so our communication works a bit differently than in other cities,” Webster City Manager Wayne Sabo said. “We do have fewer residents, but the good news there is that when they do call, they get individual attention.”
He said that the city’s website contains all the current information and that residents who contact the staff will receive an immediate response.
“One of our best ways to communicate is through (the city’s) Gateway magazine, which has articles about everything that people want to know about in Webster,” he said. “I think people are specifically interested in the Focus on Finance articles. Everyone wants to know about the municipal budget, and that’s one of the issues that Gateway covers.”
In addition, Sabo said that if residents choose, the CTY Connect system can get messages direct to their phones and email to keep them informed.
“Webster has 500 homes and the rest of our residents live in apartments,” Sabo said. “The most vocal part of our population are the seniors, and we have senior night in our civic center twice a month.”
Sabo said the city also does its best to communicate with its visiting population.
“Since we are home to the aerospace industry and we’re becoming a vacation destination in Texas, we communicate what we do through brochures that are distributed everywhere, including Space Center Houston,” he said.