The city of Brookhaven is ready to hire a communications and public engagement director as well as undergo a website redesign as part of a renewed effort to better communicate with residents.

“We know we have a communication problem,” City Manager Christian Sigman told council members at the Jan. 22 retreat held at the law offices of Greenberg Traurig. “My focus this year is going to be on communications.”

Brookhaven City Councilmembers, from right, John Park, Bates Mattison, Mayor John Ernst, Linley Jones and Joe Gebbia along with City Clerk Susan Hiott and City Attorney Chris Balch listen to discussion during the council’s Jan. 22 retreat. (Photo Dyana Bagby)

The city once had a communications director, but that job has been vacant since April 2015 after Rosemary Tyler was fired following a dispute at the city’s Cherry Blossom Festival with a photographer who alleged racism. Another city employee, Communications Manager Ann Marie Quill, has been handling all of the city’s communications alone and will remain in her job.

The city has always intended for two people to work in communications, Sigman said, and hiring a new person will greatly help in getting the word out to residents about City Council votes and city events as well as provide direction on ways to best engage the public.

For example, council members and staff are regularly bombarded with emails from residents concerned about the latest development.

“With land-use issues, too many folks conclude we are not listening,” Sigman said. “There is way too much talk about process.”

He said there should be a standard response policy for emails sent to councilmembers or city staff. What that response policy may look like hasn’t been determined, but the purpose is to make sure a response is sent within a few days, he said.

People who write the city may also have their names and contact information put into a data file so staff and council can track communications, said Sigman.

Councilmember Bates Mattison suggested information coming from the city also be in Spanish to ensure the expanding Latino and Hispanic residents are also informed.

The website design will include a FAQ for each department and will be easier to understand as well, he said.

Long-term plans to be finished this year include developing a communications strategic plan and establishing a process to thank citizens for speaking at public meetings.