At the last Navasota city council meeting, I heard that same lame claim again, this time in reference to the proposed pedestrian and bike lane projects – “Nobody knew about it!” I’m reminded of Strother Martin and his memorable line in Cool Hand Luke when he said, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” But there’s more to that popular line. He continued, “Some men, you just can’t reach.”
It’s been a long time since everybody actually could be reached. That was because they made the effort to keep up with local happenings at the grange or at church, or they read about it in the town paper if they were lucky enough to have one. Eventually, radio came along and it was as amazing and informative as the internet was when Al Gore allegedly invented it. But here we are in the 21st century, and despite the myriad options for keeping up with local news and events, citizens choose not to engage until the door to impact change has slammed shut!
So, what’s a city to do? Exactly how does it reach 8,000 people who don’t read the Examiner’s coverage of city news, aren’t a “friend of Willy” and miss out on Andre Perrard’s newscasts, don’t use Facebook, don’t have computers, or just don’t trust the worldwide web? And how about those folks who don’t read utility bill inserts because they pay their bill online, or who don’t go to city council meetings and don’t watch those meetings on YouTube or Facebook Live? Still, the City continues the thankless task of trying to broaden its reach.
For instance, it recently launched the Navigate Navasota app with all things Navasota at your fingertips. And then there’s Grilling Stafford on YouTube, featuring the Examiner, Willy 1550, and City Manager Brad Stafford, with Stafford fielding unfiltered questions from residents who actually take the time to email them in. But the team didn’t stop there. They created Countdown to Council which airs live on Willy at 10 a.m. the second and fourth Mondays to discuss the Monday night council agenda. It’s clear that a tremendous effort is being expended in a variety of mediums to encourage citizen participation and to INFORM. And yet people continue to say, “We didn’t know about it.”
Based on my own experience, neighbor-to-neighbor doesn’t work so well either. I can tell you Paul Revere wouldn’t have stood a chance on Hillside Street - we’d be hanging the Union Jack on our flagpoles instead of the Stars and Stripes! A couple of times I attempted to visit my 13 neighbors to tell them about the public meeting and proposed plans for Hillside Street. Three talked with me. One was not at home and three didn’t answer the door despite cars in the driveway. For goodness’ sake, at 70-plus years old, just under 5-feet tall, and wearing a Keep Navasota Beautiful shirt, I couldn’t possibly look threatening! Fortunately, neighbor No. 8 knew about it through a city council source and neighbor No. 9 read my Facebook post and actually came to the public meeting.
What we’ve got here is NOT a failure to communicate. With this many news options, what we’ve got here is a failure to find out what’s going on. The lines of responsibility for communication of local news and events have been blurred and it’s the citizen who’s dropped the ball.
I like to paraphrase President John F. Kennedy’s call to action, “Ask not how my government can inform me, but how can I inform myself about my government.” But then again, some men (and women), you just can’t reach.
Connie Clements is a freelance reporter for the Navasota Examiner and award-winning columnist. She writes feature news articles on a weekly basis and an opinion column as the mood strikes her.