At a recent conference in Winnipeg I had the pleasure of visiting The Forks, an area located at the junction of two large rivers....
I’m pretty certain it’s not every day that you’re asked to prepare a presentation for a delegation of officials from Inner Mongolia.
(Just a minute. Let me check my records. Feel free to chat amongst yourselves.)
Nope. Looks like nobody ever asked me to do that during my 19 years as a writer, editor, graphic designer, website designer and performer of other general communications tasks in various departments at the University of Missouri.
Maybe, though, no, apparently it didn’t happen either in the four years before that in which I worked for several local graphic design firms and print shops.
(And I suppose, for the sake of completeness, I should check the period before that when I studied English and journalism at the University of Missouri. But honestly, we probably all did things during our college years that we’d just as soon not bring up again, right?)
So, I can officially confirm that when I received a request recently to prepare a presentation for a group of Chinese officials from the Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia to familiarize them with the workings of county government in our country, it was a first.
I expect in my future as the public information officer for Boone County, it likely will not be the most unusual or the most challenging request I receive. I’ve found in my experience in this field that pumping out data and information is relatively easy. Communicating, on the other hand, is hard, and communicating with the residents of Boone County is really what the PIO is supposed to do.
It is a truism in journalism that the public has a right to know what its government is doing. I would take that expression even further and say that the public has a need to know what its government is doing, to know the reason it is being done, to know the options that could have been pursued and, ultimately, to know the potential consequences of not doing it.
In Boone County, and likely in pretty much every other county in the United States, the government is responsible for implementing and maintaining at least a portion of the infrastructure of society.
In some cases, that infrastructure is literal, such as the more than 800 miles of public roads the county maintains. In other cases, the infrastructure is procedural, such as the work performed by the assessor’s office to place a valuation on your property; the work performed by the collector’s office to gather the revenues needed to maintain those 800 miles of public roads; not to mention the Sheriff’s Department, the county courts and every other service the residents of Boone County rely on every day. Did you vote in the election earlier this month? That was the county clerk’s office that organized, operated and paid for that election, as well as ensured the security and validity of the vote.
It’s surprising how many people don’t know what their county government does for them. I was surprised when I joined Boone County as the PIO in early March how little I actually knew about what the county did, and I’ve lived here from almost 30 years. The thing is I should have known, not because it’s now my job to know but because I am a resident of Boone County. As a resident, I need to know what my government is doing and why it’s doing it so that, come election time, I can make good, well-informed decisions at the polls.
At the end of the day, it’s the job of the PIO to communicate with the residents of Boone County what the county is doing so that you can tell us whether to keep doing it or that we need to do something else. That’s your decision to make. We’re here to carry out the business of the people, after all, and you — the people — need to know what we’ve done so you can decide whether we’ve done your business well.
That might mean that sometimes I will need to work with the local media to ensure that county information gets out. It means that sometimes I might need to make posters for the public libraries about what county government does. It means that I will definitely need to beat the bushes within Boone County government itself to find out what is happening here because sometimes the employees of Boone County are too busy doing their jobs to get the word out themselves about the good work they’re doing.
And, apparently, sometimes it means that I will have to put together a presentation for officials from Inner Mongolia.
All in all, it’s not a bad way to make a living.