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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Grad Student Project Aids Fort Thomas Communication Concerns

NKU Executive Leadership students presented recommendations on city communications to Ron Dill. (l to r) Tammy Godby, Ashley Pyles, Lisa McCord, Ron Dill, Nigel Mask, Rita Jones, Sean Donelan.

By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor

The city of Fort Thomas received some extra help on its plan to improve communications and branding from a group of graduate students in a leadership program at Northern Kentucky University.

The students are enrolled in NKU’s Executive Leadership and Organizational Change (ELOC) program, and their assignment has been to provide consulting and research services on a specific issue for an area organization, business or public entity.

The larger class divided into smaller groups to select and work with different clients. One group chose the city of Fort Thomas as their client.

Bringing a fresh perspective

Fort Thomas Police Officer Sean Donelan is in the ELOC program and was one of six students assigned to consult with the city. He said the program draws an eclectic mix of people who represent a wide range public and private management and leadership roles across the area.

"We did not just have public administrators, but also people who work at Fidelity Investments, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, university personnel…all interested in professional development. These are people who want to improve things around them," said Donelan.

Donelan is a veteran police officer with three years serving Fort Thomas and before that in Wilder. He was ready to explore and develop his leadership skills.

"We are learning emotional intelligence. As a police officer, you are not used to being vulnerable, to looking at your strengths and weaknesses…but I’m finding that building these soft skills has helped me be a better me," he explained.

When his group selected Fort Thomas, he was thrilled.

"I love it. To take look at this city with five other people who are not as familiar and seeing how wonderful a place Fort Thomas is... I like that our goal here is to exceed the standard, not just meet it."

Addressing an important concern

The topic of communication has come up repeatedly at both public city meetings and informal conversations. Questions have arisen about how best to share city news, the need for better ways to inform the public about important hearings or city deadlines and how to improve the city website, newsletters and other materials to support outreach to the community.

Donelan said having a diverse group from outside the city looking at the issue brings up new ideas and approaches. "The group brings a wide variety of experiences…wide ranging perspectives, new connections and opportunities for networking."

Working with a city also presents challenges that private corporations may not face, he said. Cities are bound by laws on how and when information should be shared and are required to meet certain standards that can sometimes get in the way of expediency.

Having city staff input and buy-in on the project was key. Not only did the group have the support of the City Administrator Ron Dill, but also from city staff charged with direct communications, including City Clerk Melissa Beckett and General Services Assistant Julie Rice.

Moving ahead with ideas

The project came at an opportune time, said Dill. Several ideas and issues have come up through the city’s visioning process and in community discussions that would fit the project parameters.

"I offered a number of options, and they chose communications and branding for the city," he said. "In fact, we were already in discussions with council on the topic. This was right in line with where our research was going. The goal of the class was to act as a consultant for us."

After researching the topic, reviewing the literature and speaking with experts and officials in Fort Thomas and in other cities, the students developed recommendations and options designed to address concerns in city communications. Last month the class presented their findings and recommendations to Dill.

"I think they did a thorough job analyzing the issue overall and in relation to Fort Thomas. They provided both short- and long-term solutions that we might present. The results of their work is exciting. It shows they did the hard work and the hard research needed to address this issue," said Dill.

He shared the students’ recommendations with city staff and with the city’s Law, Labor and License committee that also has been working on the issue. The committee met once on the topic in November and plans a second discussion at their meeting in December. From there, recommendations will be presented to council at an upcoming meeting.

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