Public relations firm hired to address Upland's plans [Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Calif. :: ]
(Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 04--UPLAND -- Despite his best efforts, City Manager Stephen Dunn is losing the battle of public opinion on city issues. He knows recent attempts by him, staffers and the City Council to dispel misconceptions are not working to help residents understand what the city needs to do to get its troubled finances in order.
Which is why he asked -- and received -- $75,000 to address the top 22 measures recommended by the city's Fiscal Response Task Force and would shake up the status quo in the city, such as possibly outsourcing the management of certain departments and increase taxes.
The council agreed to allocate $48,000 to hire a public relations firm, which would help Upland set the record straight about what it intends to do in the next few months to address recommendations made by the task force.
At recent council meetings, the most common speculation has been over what will happen to the city's water system.
"A lot of citizens in the audience are relying on people sitting next to them to get their information. With the exception of a couple of you, none of you have come visited me to hear our side of the story," Dunn told audience members at Monday's council meeting. "You are relying on bits and pieces of information from neighbors who only want you to hear the information they want."
As part of the agreement, Dunn also asked for $27,000 to be able to hire an agency to survey residents on whether they would support a possible sales tax or a business license increase. In all, the council agreed to set aside $75,000 to the city manager for the services.
But the measure was met with skepticism from residents and a council member, who felt a city facing the possibility of bankruptcy could better spend those funds, or not spend them at all.
Bob Nelson, who was on the Fiscal Response Task Force, was among residents who was not in favor of allocating the funds. To prove that he was not alone, he asked residents opposed to the move to stand up. A little more than a dozen stood up, less than half in attendance at Monday's meeting.
Councilman Glenn Bozar said he wasn't opposed to the idea of getting the right information out to residents, he just didn't think a firm needed to be brought in.
"I do think there is a vehicle to do that for less money," he said, suggesting information be inserted in utilities bills that are sent out to residents every month.
"If there is some question about selling water rights or outsourcing the management -- we can do it through that mechanism. It will got to every household," Bozar said.
But Dunn said it's not effective for this purpose, noting that the inserts are booked months in advance.
"You forget, as you recall the lawsuit you brought up against the city on the paramedics fee, the issue was that the population of the water bills does not serve the population of the entire community," he said.
Part of the uphill battle the city is facing comes from within, Dunn acknowledged.
"We do have members of the City Council who have their own agendas and are going to tell you what they want you to hear," he told residents. "They are not going to tell you the whole story."
As he has said in the past, Dunn told residents that he has an open-door policy, and anyone is welcome to come in and ask any questions about the task force recommendations.
Councilman Gino Filippi said he knows it's a very emotional time for people, but sided with Dunn on the request.
"The misinformation really hurts this community," he said.
Filippi said the city is doing the best it can with the limited amount of resources.
"I think it's really important that we get the show on the road and go to the voters," he said.
Councilman Brendan Brandt said he saw the move as a cost-savings for the city and anyone who is opposed were "being potentially short-sighted."
Brandt said the allocated funds would help the city determine if it is worth their time to move forward on ballots measures if it wouldn't be approved by residents. By hiring the firm, the city can gain scientific information if it has public approval. If it doesn't, then the city could lose up to $200,000 putting the measures on a ballot.
"To me, if you need the $75,000 to implement what we've asked you to do, then we should vote for that," he said.
In addition, Brandt said he knows Dunn is extremely frugal and wouldn't spend the money unless he absolutely had to.
"You've got to trust the person you hired to manage to do what you hired him to do," he said.
(c)2014 the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Calif.)
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