By Will Fairless
The city of Opelika held the final town hall meeting in its series of three, this third titled “Improving Community Relations.” It was held in the municipal courtroom on Thursday, Sept. 24 in front of in-person attendees and an audience tuning in to the city’s Youtube channel.
The six-person panel that discussed this meeting’s topic of community relations comprised the following: Mayor Gary Fuller; Leigh Krehling, Community Relations Officer; Taylor McAllister, Community Relations Coordinator; Laura Leigh Chesser, PR Coordinator for Parks & Recreation; Rosanna McGinnis, Lewis Cooper Jr. Memorial Library; Captain Shane Healey, OPD.
The Opelika City communications department started in 2016 with one employee, Krehling. Originally, it published a newsletter, among very few other things. Four years later, the department has doubled in size (Krehling recently hired McAllister) and is putting out more robust content via enhanced channels, such as new and larger social media accounts.
“Our goal is to push out timely, accurate information, and be the gap kind of between the public and the government,” Krehling said. “We are here to try to help build relationships and build trust. We feel pressure on a daily basis to do that.”
Instead of blindly putting out a lot of information, Krehling thinks the communications department should tailor what it puts out to the people’s needs.
The best way for individuals to hear about the specific kinds of information they want is to go to the city’s website and navigate the “notify me” page (opelika-al.gov/list.aspx). On this page, one can sign up for either email or text notifications in a wide range of categories, including: activity/event cancelations, road closure alerts, weather alerts, bid postings and alerts for changes to the calendars of any of the city departments.
According to a survey conducted by the city, most Opelikians get their information from the city’s social media (as opposed to from the newsletter or website).
The city’s Facebook page is used the most and features several posts each day, including links to news stories and press releases. It’s Twitter page provides severe wreck and traffic updates and links to updates on the website. The Instagram is the newest medium for the city and is used for weekly pictures, graphics, updates and announcements. The Youtube channel is barely older than the Instagram (both were created this year) and contains live and recorded videos of meetings and events.
There is overlap and redundancy among the city’s media, so any one of them provides plenty of city information.
Mayor Fuller pointed out that citizens of Opelika, in upholding their end of communication, should contact the city’s departments directly. He alluded to a Facebook post complaining about a downed tree in an Opelika street. “It was a whole big rigmarole,” Fuller said. “If he’d have picked up the phone and called my office, we’d have had it taken care of quickly.”
The city’s communications office is located at City Hall (204 S 7th St.). Krehling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and McAllister at email@example.com.