By Kyra Bird
Calgarians can reach out to their city hall representatives in any number of ways, whether it be through calling their office, sending an email, or connecting with them on social media. But on Thursday night, Ward 11 councillor Jeromy Farkas took his commitment to communication one step further when he held his first town hall event where residents were invited to come and have their questions answered. Hosting this event, however, didn’t keep Farkas from facing some criticism regarding his communication with residents.
The town hall was hosted by the Palliser, Bayview, and Pump Hill Community Association and was well-attended. Seating filled up quickly, and additional audience members stood around the venue. The format was simple: each audience member was offered the opportunity to write down a question and place it in a large container where it had the chance to be randomly selected to be answered.
These town hall meetings, which Farkas plans to hold once a month at venues around the ward, are a campaign promise come to life. At candidates’ panels on October 2 and 5 and throughout the municipal election campaign Farkas committed to hold such meetings for residents to ask him “any question on any issue.” In that regard, the event delivered, as he addressed a wide range of topics.
During those same election events Farkas also said “I will stay there [at town hall meetings] and answer any questions until you are done with me.” In practice, this meant that the event ended at 8:30 pm, with many audience questions left unanswered. Farkas did continue to speak one-on-one with residents until about 9:00. When asked about the questions he left unanswered Farkas explained “We have all the questions in written form and will be following-up individually- all questions will be answered.”
Although this event revolved around nurturing dialogue, Farkas’ communication skills were questioned by one resident and evoked one of the more emotional responses of the evening from the councillor.
The audience member, who was kept anonymous along with the other residents who posed questions, wrote that they felt Farkas’ communication “has been very poor,” and they took issue with emails they felt took “a long time” to be replied to, as well as comments on social media they said “come across as very sensationalist and have been widely mocked.” The question went as far as to suggest that Farkas “consider hiring a communications person.”
Farkas acknowledged the validity of the question.
“The point is well taken,” he said. “I’m learning. I have a lot to do to improve but I never said that I was perfect. I’m going to make mistakes along the way.”
He went on to question the questioner.
“The biggest response to the criticism is: you know what? If you think my communication skills are poor to be out here in front of you, in person, taking unscripted questions, then I don’t know exactly what you’re looking for,” he said. “I hope you’ll accept the fact that I’m challenged a little bit about that.”
Monthly town hall meetings with Farkas are scheduled for the third Thursday of every month, according to Ward 11’s email newsletter. When asked, Farkas also promised that he and his team are working to ensure that future town halls will be streamed on Facebook Live, so that residents who aren’t able to attend in person will be able to view these public forums.
The following line has been removed from the last paragraph of this story:
“There has been no announcement yet as to where the next edition will be held.”
It has since been noted by multiple sources that the next town hall event has already been announced and will be held on February 15 and be hosted by the Oakridge Community Association.
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