O■ By Melissa Diaz H. / Contributed
ne of the topics the State Audit addressed was the lack of community outreach. I can’t imagine that would surprise anyone. In response to the audit, the City Council spent some time during the meeting following the audit’s release discussing all the great ways the city can create community outreach. Some of the ideas included increasing its Facebook/social media presence, scheduling town hall meetings, filming and posting the council meetings for the public and looking into airing the council meetings on a local television station. Time and again in my experience with the city, I have run into the following issues: lack of transparency, minutes not being accurately recorded, little to no follow-through, including a downtown revitalization that has been going on for decades, lack of communication and no regard for comments or knowledge from the public.
I have only seen the city increase their Facebook/social media presence, which is a start. However, the city does not publicly display comments on their Facebook page, which makes this page little more than a press release. When I called Kathleen Aguilar at City Hall after the 2016 State of the City to ask why comments were hidden, I was told that it was because people can be mean. Kathleen has always been exceptional in her job and in my communication with her. She is just relaying a message, but I can imagine that people can be mean and/or feel frustrated because they do not feel heard.
Councilwoman Karlee Meyer felt the need to address the council during the last meeting about the minutes not being properly recorded. I have had an issue with the way our minutes are recorded for some time. It is noted that the city clerk takes action-minutes, however council members Meyer and Michael Perciful have had important comments left out of the minutes. Some important points made very recently during the communications from the public were also left out.
Almost five months have gone by and the city is still not filming council meetings. It was important to post the video created for the 2016 State of the City and to have an interview between the city manager and police chief posted on social media. We must have the proper equipment somewhere, right? The city was trying to pass a tax, so they wouldn’t have hired a company to come in and film both of those things with taxpayer funds, right? This is not complicated. I have streamed the meetings live and posted them on Facebook. We have had issues trying to livestream the meetings recently though. The downtown revitalization project has been going on in one way or another for about 30 years now, which is less time than I have been alive but not by much. Is there any way we can get that project completed this time? Wouldn’t everyone love to see a downtown that we are all proud to call our own? I know I would! The consultants for the downtown revitalization committee need a bit more education regarding race, ethnicity and the demographics of our city. We do not need out-of-town consultants to plan something our citizens can plan. Hemet has grown to be a very diverse city, yet our downtown revitalization committee seems to be just about the farthest thing from diverse. It is a shame and a completely missed opportunity.
Another missed opportunity is the fact that we have yet to see a town hall meeting for everyone from the city to attend. I have been hearing about how the city is going to hold a town hall since before the 2015 State of the City. Also, I do not believe we have had a follow-up meeting to July’s strategic planning meeting. A consultant led that meeting as well. There was going to be a meeting on Feb. 2 but I am uncertain now if that is still happening. It is also difficult to keep people engaged when the follow-through is spotty, at best, and plans never come to fruition. The people of Hemet are tired of being pacified.
One of my pet peeves is related to the timing of the city council agendas. They do not get released until the Thursday evening (sometimes late afternoon) before the council meeting, which occurs on the following Tuesday night at 7 p.m. The city is closed Fridays. If there is an agenda item that someone would like to address and include some form of media to add to their comment, the file must be delivered to city hall to be scanned for viruses three business days before the council meeting. I completely understand that policy. However, I am looking at a calendar and it is impossible to get that in three business days prior to a council meeting when the agenda is released only two business days prior to the council meeting.
I ask – What is going on? It would be such a positive step to see the city engage its people. Instead, we get to hear about how the city has great things in the works that they are unable to discuss. In addition, we never get to see a final product. It gets frustrating, especially when you want to see the city thrive. I would love to write about how the city is opening the line of communication with its citizens, the press and even within its own departments. City of Hemet: Why do you shut out the people, the press and those asking questions? You aren’t transparent if you refuse to answer questions or release information. That is the opposite of transparency. That is the opposite of community engagement.