Editorial: Last administrator message

Many Historic City News readers who follow local government have made it a practice to read the St. Johns County Update from County Administrator Michael D. Wanchick — now that communication is being pulled.

Wanchick wrote in his release last week that the departure of Communication Manager Karen Pan has caused “staffing shortages” that necessitate discontinuing the County Administrator’s Message.

I find this hard to accept — I also found it hard to accept when I was informed that one of the first services on the chopping block, if the administration did not get the millage increase they want, would be Government TV.

An informed citizenry relies on communication. The transparency afforded through open communications is the foundation of our trust in government. Any military strategist will tell you, if you are going to stage a coup d’etat — the first thing you shut down is communications.

“Government in the Sunshine” does not only make meetings and records open to media organizations like Historic City News, but also makes them open to you.

Government TV makes it possible for the taxpayers, residents and other interested citizens to see what our county staff and politicians are up to for themselves.

On October 29, 2009, in an e-mail to Historic City News from Karen Pan, she wrote, “I believe you also pull comments from the Administrator’s Message, and those are appropriate to attribute to Mr. Wanchick since that comes directly from him.”

OK. Wanchick signs his name and title to the Administrator’s Message and his Communication Manager says to attribute comments contained in the message to Wanchick, “because they come directly from him”.

So, how does Pan taking a better job in Jacksonville, impair the administrator’s ability to write his brief, selected comments concerning the departments and administration of the county’s business once a month? Ostensibly, he was already doing that as one of his $170,000 a year duties.

For comparison, look at the City Manager of neighboring Palm Coast in Flagler County.

Every week — not bi-weekly or monthly — Jim Landon distributes the “Week in Review” which includes a one or two page log from every department head listing, in exact terms, what they did the previous week. In other words, the top paid government workers are accountable to not only the administrator, but also the public.

For example, from last week’s review, the Palm Coast City Clerk reported:

City Clerk

• Completed and certified the Primary Election and continued work on the General Election
• Working on five requests for public information.
• Processed three Lis Pendens and five litigation documents.
• Prepared and processed two documents for recording.
• Prepared eight agenda items.
• Prepared four proclamations.
• Prepared and posted two agendas to the Web.
• Processed two resolutions.
• Coordinated OnBase changes for City Clerk, Public Programs/Events & HR with IT&C.

Concise, to the point, measurable and accountable.

Landon also writes an executive summary along the lines of Wanchick’s County Administrator’s Message.

Last week, the headlines were:

• City Commemorates Ten Years since 9/11
• Mayor Netts to Serve Another Term
• Keeping Our Pets Bright-Eyed and Bushy Tailed
• Green Team Works With Children
• Commercial Development
• Citizens Save Tennis Player

Landon writes a few brief items for the next week’s calendar:

• Tuesday, September 20, City Council Meeting, 9:00 a.m., Community Center
• Wednesday, September 21, Planning & Land Development Regulation Board, 5:30 p.m., 160 Cypress Point Parkway Suite B106
• Thursday, September 22, Beautification and Environmental advisory Board, 5:00 p.m., 160 Cypress Point Parkway Suite B106
• Saturday, September 24, Intracoastal Waterway Cleanup, 9:00 a.m., Holland Park for directions and supplies

Landon includes the department head summaries as attachments, again, requiring none of his own time.

• Administration Division Updates
• Business Assistance Center Update
• Community Development Update
• Engineering/Stormwater Update
• Fire Update
• Information Technology & Communications Update
• Public Works/Utility Update
• Recreation & Parks Update
• Press Releases: 2011 Adult Kickball League; Pack the Pool-Pirate Day; Business to Business
• Expo; Flu Shots; Self Defense Course-2011
• City Attorney selected for inclusion in the 2012 edition of The Best Lawyers in America

It would be no extra work for the County Administrator to ask each department head for a weekly summary of activity within their department. And, if he and his former Communication Manager were telling the truth in their October 2009 e-mail to us, he was already writing the Administrator’s Message — and he hasn’t gone anywhere.

We need more communication, not less. If Palm Coast can do more with less in this regard, why can’t we?

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