By Trevor Busch
In an effort to align with the stated goals of their Strategic Plan, the Town of Taber is forging a relationship with Lethbridge College to provide communications training for town council and senior administration.
According to administration, “council has indicated communications is a focus for their new Strategic Plan.
This training will allow council to become comfortable in many facets of communicating. Better communications will increase the public’s trust and confidence in their government.”
“We’d like to create a partnership with Lethbridge College to provide some training for council, senior administration and some key staff members to get our communications gears rolling, if you will,” said Coun. Carly Firth at council’s May 28 regular meeting.
Prior to May 28, Firth and others from council had attended a preliminary meeting with college officials to discuss the needs of the municipality and the scope of the training to be provided.
The presentation was prepared by Lana Barlow, business development co-ordinator with the college’s department of Corporate and Continuing Education.
Key learning outcomes identified in the proposal included identifying common communications problems and how communication style impacts those around you and the community, developing skills to ask questions and communicate accordingly, recognizing what your non-verbal messages are telling others, developing skills in listening actively and empathetically, and determining how to manage incidents and crisis situations.
Other considerations were learning how to deal with situations assertively but with tact, how to think critically and effectively deliver a message, presenting ideas to a group or using social media, and learning how to become a better spokesperson and foster relationships with internal and external stakeholders such as the media.
The training fee per group of 20 participants is $5,485 plus GST, and includes 15 hours of training in five three-hour sessions at the Administration Building.
In the final session, council would be required to utilize the skills and training they have learned to participate in mock scenarios or media scrums.
Coun. Mark Garner was dismissive of the value of the training while attacking the college’s communications expertise.
“I’m not sure right now is the time to do it. Also, I struggle with the idea that we’re paying someone $365 an hour who has no expertise in this area. This is the first time they’re doing this. I think that’s expensive money to pay people the first time through. They have no experience whatsoever training elected officials in this area. And I think this time of year is going to be very difficult for five three-hour sessions, plus they said there may be additional time needed to bring everyone up to speed. I think we need to stop and look at it a little before we proceed any further.”
It was indicated in the college’s proposal that the training would be provided by, “qualified instructors who have over two decades of media and communications experience.”
“I agree with Mr. Garner. Summertime is a terrible time for this, of course, if we’re willing to do it,” said Coun. Jack Brewin. “I’ve had some thoughts about it — and it’s council’s decision of course — but are we sure this is really the direction we want to go?”
Firth questioned Garner’s statement that the college’s instructors have “no experience whatsoever” in communications training.
“I would respectfully disagree that these people don’t have any expertise dealing with (communications). You’re right in that they haven’t ever provided training to elected officials, but they’ve done media training before. And media training for elected officials wouldn’t be that much different from media training for a business.”
Garner suggested meeting with other local elected officials to develop communications strategies would be more cost-effective, and ultimately a better value for council.
“I think we would be better served to meet with people who have expertise in dealing with elected officials. I think spending an hour or two with Grant Hunter (Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA) or Martin Shields (Bow River MP) and ask them what’s the best way to proceed when we are communicating with the public would give us as much or more information as we would get from these people. Because those people are in the trenches every day, at a federal level and a provincial level, and they have expertise. And I’m sure that they would render that service to us probably for free if asked.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas saw great value in the training, while suggesting that members of council would benefit from learning strategies to adequately confront communications challenges.
“Media Training 101, I’m on the pro side. I don’t think that it can hurt to get some media training referral, so we can watch our p’s and q’s, and r’s and s’s. You’re talking about the people-trained media in Lethbridge for the different facets, doing media presentations to businesses. We’re a business — you can say what you want, we’re elected officials, but we’re running a business here. The Town of Taber is a business, and we don’t even know how to act appropriately, or speak appropriately, as far as representing the town. I’m totally in favour of this. You can never have enough education. And rather than stand there like our prime minister and say, ‘um… um… um… ‘ I think this is probably pretty good to do something like this.”
Coun. Louie Tams was also on board.
“I do think that the training, we need it. I do agree that the summertime is probably not the right time to do it.”
Brewin remained opposed to attempting to fit the training into the summer months.
“Timing is the biggest issue. What I really liked about it when we talked is that we also include senior administration and staff members if we so choose, it’s not just the seven of us. I believe it was up to 20 people. But the timing, summer is really tough for me. With seven months of winter I’ve got lots to do.”
Following discussion, council voted 6-1 to approve a communications training proposal from Lethbridge College, with the funds to be allocated from the council training budgetary line, and that administration brings dates and times back to council at the first meeting in September to discuss the timing of the training.
Coun. Mark Garner opposed the motion.