La Cañada works to get word out to residents

The city of La Cañada Flintridge is small, but its compact dimensions still don't necessarily mean that information about meetings and ordinance changes always reach every resident.

In an effort to connect with the city's population — about 20,000 people — more effectively, the city plans to hire a communications consultant who will draft newsletters and press releases, and provide a marketing strategy that may include social media.

"We could probably be doing a better job in reaching out to the community and informing the public about things that we're doing," City Manager Mark Alexander said at a recent City Council meeting. "I hear things coming from the community that are often misunderstood or misinformed, or just in error."

Alexander said the city lacks an outlet where the public can learn the reasoning behind certain policy decisions or seek clarity on a complicated issue.

The City Council approved $14,100 toward improving the city's communications and outreach at a mid-year budget meeting in February, which covers the last three months of this fiscal year. The consultant would work part-time, spending a significant amount of time at City Hall upon hire to learn about the city and its employees.

The city has contacted a number of firms that provide communications for government agencies. The City Council will review possible candidates sometime next month.

The city recently renovated its website, which is updated throughout every week with agendas, news bulletins and city documents. A TV channel that broadcasts meetings live is also available to residents.

But elected officials and city staff want to do more.

"I think we've got a good start," said Mayor Laura Olhasso. "If we can build on that, all the better for everybody."

Local government agencies are increasingly using social media, newsletters and other forms of outreach to connect with a niche audience.

Last year, the La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board created a committee to tackle social media and other forms of communication. Meetings are announced on the board's Facebook page and all of the agendas are available online. The board also sends out a newsletter to parents before and after board meetings.

School board member Andrew Blumenfeld said parents have appreciated the constant contact. "We've had dramatically fewer instances where the community expresses frustration at being left out of a crucial conversation," he said.

There are still parents who contact the school district to complain that they didn't know a meeting or event was taking place, he said, but many appreciate the many outlets to communicate with the board.

Blumenfeld and other board members handle all the communication. Next, the committee would like to create a Twitter account and give the district's website a makeover.

"Everyone gets their information from different places," he said. "The only possible winning strategy is to have as many forms as possible."

When the city initiates their own communications strategy, Blumenfeld said he hopes the two agencies can learn from each other.

Olhasso said it's important that La Cañada hire someone who is versed in new media.

"I think people get their information in a lot of different ways and we need to communicate with them in a lot of different ways," she said.


Follow Tiffany Kelly on Google+ and on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly.

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