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Letter: Quarter Million Dollar Lesson-Learned (?) in Communication

We hear it all the time, but do we listen and learn? Residents want transparency which requires communication. Newsday reports the Manhasset-Lakeville Water District (MLWD) already spent $200K to install with now another $55K to soon take down the 190 ft tall radio tower on its water tower land near Dogwood Lane in Munsey Park at the border of Flower Hill. It surprised myself and residents who first learned by seeing it from their doorstep. While the exact cost may be debatable, MLWD’s failure to communicate in advance wasted money. More important, is the hope that every municipal related entity learns by taking appropriate advance communication measures that can prevent such waste, both in dollars as well as the aggravating time and effort needed by residents and Villages to resolve it AFTER the public became aware. A 190 ft Radio Tower is difficult to keep secret and is ironic that its goal for increased radio communication FAILED due to MLWD’s lack of communication.

 

The 1920-60 decades of Robert Moses’ mantra “Build it fast; Answer questions later” have evolved to be unacceptable in 2013. Entities that unfortunately continue to feel that engaging their constituents is an unnecessary waste of precious time need to learn that in 2013 open (transparent) communication DOES matter. Taking additional time and effort in advance is far less expensive than the costly after-the-fact correction of an error. Gone also are the days to tout “come to our meetings, they’re open”. Few constituents have the time to attend yet another meeting to perhaps learn about something new ‘in-the-works’ that may affect them. Communicating is a simple concept, but actually takes considerable effort. 

 

Very good community communication tools are readily to help increase constituent input to the many municipalities and special districts that provide services to us. An article or notice in our local papers, eMail notification to civic organizations and to any related inter-municipal entities, hard copy direct mail with all directly affected homeowners, or an effective website are all readily available tools. In this case, anyone who had visited the MLWD website would have never known the project was even ‘in the works’. While the MLWD website does provide good information for MLWD consumers, financial statements, and its budget, it posts no recent news section, nor any agendas or commissioner meeting summaries to know what’s new and in-the-works. Clearly, MLWD hasn’t yet achieved transparency. While far from perfect, Greater Council’s website (manhassetcivic.org) strives to become a model for community information and maintained with total volunteer efforts. All municipal related entities have far more resources to implement websites capable of regular updates providing quality transparent communication with constituents. All such entities need to better

USE ALL THESE TOOLS when it matters. Not just legal notices that often require a law degree to understand, but REAL communications that help understand and improve a project, measure community support or opposition, and provide opportunities to improve a plan or project based on resulting feedback. And the job of those elected includes recognizing that it matters. 

 

Silence (the lack of communication) can be deadly at worst, but as this case shows can be costly. When any project is planned and executed in relative secrecy, any Special District or municipal related entity needs be prepared for a walloping blow from constituents. While I applaud MLWD for rapidly realizing its error and fast remedial action, hopefully the lesson learned by MLWD and many more entities will be that advance communication DOES count. Pete Seeger’s 1962 “Where have all the flowers gone” lyrics say it best… “When will they ever learn?”. Hopefully, the answer is TODAY.

 

Happy Communicating,

 

Rich Bentley

 

(the author is President of the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations)