Compared to the 121 pieces posted to Brea Matters over 5 years, this has been the most difficult blog to write. Here’s why. I do not want to diminish or dismiss the contribution of those volunteering as Brea Envisions Steering Committee members or Ambassadors.
One of Brea’s great strengths, for decades, has been a consistent outpouring of volunteerism. Brea Envisions is only the most recent beneficiary. Brea schools have long benefitted from the hard work and largesse of PTAs. Youth sports have thrived thanks, in large part, to the generosity of the community.
Around 1996 then Mayor Glenn Parker launched the Mayor’s Annual Youth Award helping to instill the spirit of volunteerism into countless young Breans. Brea’s faith based community and service organizations have touched every aspect of life in Brea.
Where did the problem start?
With the best of intentions, Council launched Brea Envisions with the stipulation that no current or former elected or appointed officials could be on the Steering Committee. This was designed to prohibit the committee from being peppered with the same old faces (Old Guard) in an effort to overcome the legacy of manipulation that has blemished every effort at public engagement in recent history.
They forgot one thing, creating a means of continued oversight. Beyond the occasional self aggrandizing updates they’ve been given, Council has no real clue how leadership has evolved. Convinced to not select a Chair, the Brea Envisions Steering Committee essentially handed staff the keys.
Supported by their very expensive consultant MIG and their subcontractors, staff has taken over, concocting a long range planning project hardly touched by the very people they’re hired to serve.
What was my first clue?
A sparse, poorly conceived social media effort and a cookie cutter website that was difficult to navigate and barely mobile friendly. Then I heard about this all purpose hashtag, #breaenvisions, that would be the linchpin tying everything together and triggering a viral response.
Newsflash: going viral is not a strategy, it’s a phenomenon. Jimmy Fallon’s Thursday Tweets create so much traffic they become trending topics because Fallon has 38.4 million followers and his staff understands how to engage their fans. City of Brea has 4,800+ followers interested in traffic updates and Amber alerts. Do the math.
The Brea Envisions website, an app/template from consultant subcontractor Crowdbrite copyrighted in 2015, is an off-the-rack one-size-fits-all “engagement” tool sold to city after city. As I said, it is far from user friendly on mobile devices and almost impossible to determine if or when any new content is added.
Did you take the survey? Did you know there is a new survey now and you can take it too? I didn’t think so.
A third of the survey questions ask for narrative input. Yeah, you have to type sentences and stuff. Someone explain to me how this anecdotal input will be translated to quantifiable data. Plus, as of this writing, only 60 folks have taken the survey. Many questions are phrased, “What are your three favorite…” which leaves zero room for constructive criticism.
This overly Saccharin Pollyanna approach has been the hallmark of that bogus old City Manager Survey that Council used to justify giving Tim O’Donnell raise after raise.
Brea Envisions: Trust but verify.
I checked in with a couple of Brea Envisions committee members, off the record. As promised, they’ll remain anonymous… but they shared that they couldn’t remember the committee having any influence in originating anything relating to the website or social media.
Since Steering Committee meetings are, by law, open to the public and anyone may attend, which Council confirmed during their Study Session the night prior, I decided that sitting in on one was the next logical step.
Last Wednesday evening I went to the third floor conference room, picked an unobtrusive seat to ensure my presence wouldn’t have any impact on the meeting. I stood, for a brief moment, and took a photo with my phone, then sat quietly for the rest of the meeting.
As the meeting started, a quick head count showed that attending were 11 committee members and 8 city staff members. The meeting was run and dominated by staff who easily filled 80% of the airtime. Most of their rambling presentation seemed designed to convince committee members how amazingly well staff was succeeding every step of the way. Near the end of the meeting the committee did interject a few comments. I’ll get to that in a moment.
Yup, a whole six posts a week! The plan is anchored on the assumption that all followers will “like” and share every item with their entire network. The plan will go viral!
Business entities relying on social media for their company or personal brand, employ management apps (Hootsuite, IFTTT, TweetDeck etc.) and often post 50, 100, 200+ posts a day across a half dozen social media platforms. Do the math.
They also rely upon advanced analytics which allow them to know precisely how they’re influencing the market. I heard nothing of the sort shared with the committee.
Committee input mostly rebuffed.
When staff was challenged about there not being a dedicated Brea Envisions Facebook page, the answer was, “We decided that it would be potentially too confusing.”
Whoa. Wasn’t that the committee’s job? Doesn’t the Brea PD have their own site for recruiting? What about the Curtis Theater and Brea Gallery?
The heart of marketing, and that’s what this is folks, is built upon differentiation. Burying Brea Envisions in the city’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages is completely backwards. Don’t even get me started on their ridiculous use of Periscope to live stream video of the Ambassador training session. They got 2 viewers.
Committee comments were either greeted with rebuttal or the standard city speak, “We’ll look into that.” which often means waiting long enough that the comment is forgotten.
Time for Council to reassert itself.
There is much more of the racetrack still ahead of us than behind. If Council can find a way to take a more hands-on role in overseeing Brea Envisions without interfering with it being a project by the people, the interest, expertise, energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers will not be squandered.
Otherwise, Brea Envisions will join the ranks of so many other workshops, public discussions and charrettes that tapped the public only for validation and not direction.