Open Letter to Lochgelly Community Council
I was baffled to read the recent comments made to the Central Fife Times by Lochgelly Community Council (LCC) Chair Brian Schulz who expressed unqualified surprise about the press release (Volunteers get website back into action) from community group Loch of Shining Waters.
On 14th March 2016 Loch of Shining Waters’ Secretary James Glen emailed Mr Schulz, together with every Community Councillor on email plus the three elected members from Fife Council, to explain why we had stepped in to restore the community council website after LCC Secretary Stevie Murray “accidentally” deleted it. We also offered to give LCC full access and free training to run the site in future.
As a matter of politeness, James also circulated a press release to Mr Schulz and the other Community Councillors on email when he issued it to the press on 15th March 2016.
Mr Schulz clearly received both emails because he replied by asking him to use his personal email address instead of his Fife Council one and promised a proper response in due course. No other recipient of James’ email has replied to date, nor has Mr Schulz’s promised response on behalf of the community council materialized – the first response from Mr Schulz to the new website which I saw was in the Central Fife Times.
Perhaps Mr Schulz has been having trouble with his email, has lost James Glen’s phone number and has forgotten where he lives. Since James used to be chair of Lochgelly Community Council, and before that was a colleague for Mr Schulz’s on the LCC for a number of years, this is at best extremely peculiar behaviour, and at worst a calculated snub.
In any case, using a newspaper article to communicate obliquely with a well-established local community group whose volunteers have generously rebuilt and relaunched a community council website is hardly going to encourage the community participation LCC members claim to want and regularly complain about not getting.
Mr. Schulz also appears to have taken the strange decision to reject the website on behalf of the Lochgelly Community Council without even discussing this with his fellow Community Councillors at a properly minuted meeting. He also appears to think a page on the Fife Direct website and an LCC health centre campaign facebook page will do instead. But they are clearly not the same as a purpose-built stand-alone website which provides archives of all relevant LCC documents as well as a full comment facility, is outwith the control of Fife Council and which has been fully optimized for mobile and tablet users as well as for the visually impaired.
Mr. Schulz highlights that the LCC has a ‘site’ (in fact a page) on Fife Direct, which is notorious for providing a poor experience for desktop and mobile users. Mobile users are denied access to all content other than an email address and even desktop users are only given access to the latest 10 documents published.
Similarly, to substitute a Facebook page for a proper website leaves the many residents who are not Facebook-users out of the loop. On top of this, there have already been well-documented reports of an unknown Community Councillor ignoring and even deleting questions and polite comments from residents who have tried to interact with the LCC Facebook posts. An unknown Community Councillor also removed important information relevant to the campaign for a new health centre which had been posted by a local SNP Councillor.
The stats tell their own story. Between 29th March and 7th April the LCC website as reconstituted by Loch of Shining Waters received 665 page views while the LCC Facebook page shows very little regular activity with only a few new likes since 30th March
By contrast, the Loch of Shining Waters website receives an average of 350 unique visitors per day, with daily page views in the thousands. This is the kind of reach a well-established, regularly maintained LCC website could expect to enjoy.
No 21st-century community council which genuinely wants to engage its community, can afford to pass up a fully functioning website. LCC is in the fortunate position of having been offered a new website with all necessary bells and whistles for nothing and without any strings attached.
Either Mr Schulz is without a clue about modern online communication, or he is purposely restricting residents’ access to LCC information which is supposed to be publicly available, limiting opportunities for public scrutiny and discouraging broader community participation. Either way, his inaction serves to exclude significant sections of the local population from Lochgelly Community Council.
Chairperson – Loch of Shining Waters