Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mayor Betsy’s Key Tactic: More Listen, Less Talk

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Here's the report I wrote about IABC Fort Worth's April 15 event featuring Jason Lamers, chief of staff for Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. This report was originally published in eChaser, the newsletter of the Fort Worth chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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LISTENING, listening, listening. That’s the fundamental communications component around which Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price has built her administration — and it serves her well — her chief of staff told the April 15 meeting of IABC Fort Worth on the campus of Texas Wesleyan University.

Jason Lamers is Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price's chief of staff
Jason Lamers, Chief of Staff
for Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price
Jason Lamers said Price emphasizes building trust and that she has succeeded with the public “simply by listening and being a communicator.” The mayor is “an amazing connector,” said Lamers, who also worked for Price’s predecessor, Mayor Mike Moncrief. “I thought he knew a lot of people, but Betsy knows a thousand times more people than Mike.”

Lamers, a Texas Wesleyan journalism graduate, addressed IABC professional and student chapter members, as well as journalism, communications and marketing faculty. His presentation was the keynote of the IABC student chapter’s annual luncheon, which featured an exhibition of student projects.

He said Price’s rolling and walking town halls provide opportunities to connect and listen at the same time. “People are dusting their bikes off … and coming out riding with the mayor. We’re going to them where they want to be. We’re not asking them to just come to City Hall or to some boring town hall meeting.”

The mayor still schedules traditional citizen input gatherings, in Lamer’s words “caffeinated town halls,” but the mobile approach is working. As a byproduct, he said, “people are getting to know their neighbors” as well as the mayor.

Price has established two targeted advisory groups — Steer Fort Worth, which challenges 18- to 40-year-olds in a young leaders program to develop workable ideas on issues like sustainability and water conservation, and the Mayor’s Faith Leaders Cabinet. She also has encouraged the use of technology to connect and listen.

She has an active Facebook page and a Twitter handle, @MayorBetsyPrice. And the city promotes, a website dedicated to collecting feedback. Lamers said around 70 percent of the input about the city’s May 10 bond propositions came through the site.

“We’ve got one person now … and that’s all she does, is she looks at the e-mails, she looks at Facebook, she looks at the social media and she’s responding. She’s getting answers and she’s responding.”

Despite having a dedicated responder, Lamers said not enough staff is available to accomplish all that the mayor wants. In 2008, “the city really just gutted the whole communication department,” he said. “But now Mayor Betsy has brought a new vision for communication,” resulting in creation of the Office of Public Engagement.
“So we’re building that back up … with the idea that it’s not communication, it’s public engagement that we’ve got to be focused on. Not just communicating with citizens but listening to citizens.”

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