Over the last six months, Palestine City Manager Leslie Cloer and Finance Director Jim Mahoney have imposed some much-needed fiscal discipline on city departments, and made sure department heads were following the rules. That should pay financial dividends for years to come. For that alone, the community owes them a debt of gratitude.
On the matter of communication, transparency, and customer service, however, they have failed, sometimes miserably, leaving residents confused, inconvenienced, and frustrated. Getting an answer or reporting a problem to City Hall is too often an exercise in futility, as callers get caught in phone-mail hell and then leave messages that are never returned.
Cloer and Mahoney retain the trust and confidence of Mayor Steve Presley, who cites accelerated street and road repairs, as well as economic development gains and a series of tough decisions previous city managers avoided.
Presley and members of city council, however, need to school Cloer and Mahoney in Communications:101. If not, the liabilities of their administration will soon outweigh the assets.
Communicating with the public, including the media, is central to their jobs. Failures to do so cause, aggravate, and prolong problems.
In September, for instance, Mahoney rolled out a change in the city's water billing cycle without notifying customers. Confused residents incurred late fees or temporarily lost water service.
Worse, Mahoney repeated the misstep several months later, when residents were not informed of a computer error affecting water bills. At a council meeting this week, Mahoney said he was “kind of busy.”
“Kind of busy?” So are city residents who work two low-paying jobs to raise their families. We wonder how Mahoney would have responded if one of his employees offered the same excuse for not doing his job.
In a less-publicized snafu last month, the city sent out flyers containing incorrect information on trash pick-ups that confused numerous people – again, without the same accountability city managers demand of other employees.
Up to now, Mahoney has taken most of the heat, but the buck stops with Cloer, who has hardly made communicating with the public, including the media, a priority. Privately, even some council members have complained they have trouble reaching her.
City residents aren't the only ones complaining. In a lawsuit against the city in January, Baze Chemical stated managers are “defiant, inaccessible, and completely indifferent to errors and omissions.”
On citywide issues, Councilwoman Dana Goolsby has done a better job of communicating, through social media, than has the city administration.
In the last two months, some members of city council finally have told Mahoney and Cloer they must do better. For the good of the city, they need to get the message.