By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton councillors are expected to use their voices at the Jan. 14 general issues committee meeting to change how city officials engage the public on city services in the future.
After the debacle involving an Ottawa-based public relations firm that partnered with the city to launch the Our Voice Our Hamilton citizen engagement program that included social media, public meetings, and a website, some councillors were looking to end the $376,000 contract with Dialogue Partners. City Manager Chris Murray, who was featured prominently in the website, and Facebook page, is scheduled to introduce a motion at the GIC meeting involving the project’s future.
“This should justify termination,” said Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla said.
City officials requested Dialogue Partners to “temporarily” close down the website www.ourvoice.hamilton.ca, because of “offensive and inaccurate content.”
In addition, the city has cancelled the public meetings that were scheduled to be held at Sackville Hill Seniors Centre on Upper Wentworth, Jan. 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and at the YWCA Seniors Centre Auditorium onMacNab Street Jan. 17 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Hamilton Community News was unable to talk to a representative of Dialogue Partners this week. A call Jan. 10 to the company was not returned.
The citizen engagement project was immediately embroiled in problems soon after its Jan. 7 launch when a Dialogue Partners representative asked in a Twitter post “what is a HSR” to a question that was asked on the site. Immediately, people on Twitter criticized the consultant, and it spurred further conversation and investigation.
It was eventually discovered that the opening picture on the website depicting a group of people cycling was actually take inOttawa. There were also other pictures referring to other municipalities called Hamilton, but not Hamilton, Ont.
Dialogue Partners did apologize on the Our Voice Our Hamilton Facebook page for the mistakes, but the majority of users didn’t buy it, calling the apology half hearted.
Dialogue Partners won the contract from the city in a request for proposals bid last April. The company, which has done work for the city of Calgary, the City of Edmonton, Canadian Blood Services Clinic, and the federal government, was expected to assist in citizen engagement, train about 25 city employees in public participation, create a website, and social media presence, offer an online game called Cityscape, and have residents fill out an online survey.
The project was scheduled to last until March 2013, when the results of the engagement process were to be presented to councillors.