By Kevin Werner, News Staff
The future of the Ottawa-based public relations firm remains in limbo after Hamilton politicians instructed the city manager to conduct further discussions with the company about its contract with the city.
During a nearly three-hour in camera meeting, councillors questioned the city’s solicitor, Don Fisher, about the company’s $376,000 contract.
City Manager Chris Murray said it could take two more weeks before he will present to councillors with further recommendations to consider.
“There is still the commitment to ensure we complete the (citizen engagement) work,” said Murray. “They have given me additional direction.”
The discussion among councillors over the future of whether Dialogue Partners will continue to work with the city to promote the citizen engagement project, Our Vision Our Hamilton, was prompted Jan. 7 when questions on social media were asked about the competency of the company. Soon after the project was launched, a storm exploded on Twitter and Facebook about Dialogue Partners’ ability to oversee the project with the city after a series of mistakes were discovered by the public. The company was forced to shut down the project’s website at the request of the city because of offensive and erroneous material.
Dialogue Partners soon after apologized to the community on Facebook for the mistakes. The company also took aim at some of the social media users characterizing them as bullies for focusing on a negative perception of Dialogue Partners.
Murray defended the review process the city is conducting to solving the issue, even though the public may feel the need for immediate action is necessary.
“There really important thing here is we are going to do the work,” he said. “It’s too important an assignment not to do it extremely well, By taking a little bit of time right now to correct some of the matters that have been a concern to people is critical and council wants to know the details around how we are going to move forward. I appreciate the frustration people may have. We agree with them. We want to do it right.”
The company won a contract last year from the city to conduct the public outreach program, that included holding public meetings, creating a website, and Twitter page, and conducting on-line discussions with the community. The company began the project last April.
Some politicians, including Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla, have indicated the city should end the contract with Dialogue Partners, arguing its credibility with the Hamilton community is shot. When asked at the Jan. 14 government issues committee meeting if the company would consider a new contract with the city, the owner, Stephani Roy McCallum said she would consider it.