Here`s an opportunity to put an end to some yakety yak the city puts out three times a year. Save $50,000 at the same time.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  July 26, 2012  City Hall wants to know what you think about City Talk, the publication they produce three times a year that devotes half its pages to material from each council member and the rest to projects taking place in the city and listings of events.

Asking the question is a bold move – if the public says the thing is a waste of paper and money, will the city decide to no longer publish the magazine and then reduce the Public Affairs department budget by at least one staff member?

The department has a manager and two and a half staff plus a summer intern.

A staff writer with the Public Affairs department, Oliver Lee on the right works with council members at public events directing the flow of what takes place. Staff writers produce the media releases as well.  In this photograph Lee directs General Manager Scott Stewart, Councillor Lancaster and Mayor Goldring

While the Public Affairs department touts the magazine as something that is vibrant and essential to keeping the public informed – that’s not the word we hear on the street.

The magazine is distributed to 70,000 homes; costs $20,000 to produce and requires 105 hours of staff time to edit.   We are told that the publishing cycle is six weeks long and that much of that time is eaten up by Council members who want to edit and re-write their contributions.

Council members have web sites, email lists and all kinds of media access – they don’t need city funds to produce a magazine that, despite the comments Public Affairs makes, isn’t read or kept on coffee tables or kitchen counters.

The Public Affairs department, which publishes City Talk, is run by Donna Kell, Manager Public Affairs. She directs a staff of 2.5 people plus a summer intern.

Public Affairs is managed through the Clerk`s office – not the best place for something as sensitive and important as the way the city talks to its citizens.  Media releases and public information should be under the firm hand of the office of the city manager.

The Mayor has his own people to manage and craft his message.  Public information is too important to be at the Clerk`s office level where media really isn’t understood.  The city Clerk is a very powerful position; almost semi-judicial in its scope and level of responsibility.  Most of the documents the city signs require the signature of the city Clerk.

A very short profile of the newly appointed city manager.  One doesn’t come away from this piece knowing very much about the man that runs the administrative side of the city and works to turn the direction from council into everyday policy.  More “happy talk” that journalism.


Nice layout, nice pictures but not very much about just how significant this project is.  It is one of the first times in the province where a Library Board, City Parks and Recreation staff and the School Board manage to work out the significantly different mandates they have and produce what will prove to be a sterling example of how cooperation can work.

The Summer 2012 issue had 28 pages, that includes the front and back cover,  of which 14 pages were used by council members.  Each council member got two pages to talk about the ward and the work they’ve  done.

There is an opportunity here to save $60,000 a year plus 300 hours of staff time.  It isn’t something the Public Affairs department will advocate,  but someone in city hall obviously suggested asking the public what they think  – sounds to me like this is the first step to getting rid of the thing.

But if the city is looking for a way to communicate meaningful information then how about a list of the top ten complaints that come into the city switchboard.  List those top ten for each quarter of the year.

There are city publications that are worth the money spent on printing them – the Parks and Recreation magazine is a good example.  City Talk is not a good example.

Some of the money saved could be shuffled along to Council members – add it to the office budget they have now.

Public affairs wants you to tell them what you think.  Don`t let them down.

Chances are that you can`t find your copy of City Talk – it went into the recycling box.  We have set out a couple of pages of the publication below.  It`s not a pretty picture.

Public Affairs wants to hear you.

What should we add?

What should we remove?

 What type of articles do you want to read?

What type of articles should we leave out?

How can we make City Talk better for you?

The city has posted an online survey: Click here to complete the survey.   

The survey closes Aug.10, 2012.   Summer isn’t the best time of year to go to the public for opinions – everyone is away for at least some of the time.  Extending the deadline to middle of September would make more sense – but then perhaps the Public Affairs department doesn`t want too many responses.

If you prefer, you can email your thoughts and opinions to: with your comments.


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