Jerry Davich: Newsletter showcases city of Portage
Jerry Davich email@example.com January 15, 2013 11:00PM
Spread in the City of Portage newsletter featuring Portage mayor Jim Snyder and his children. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media ptmet
Updated: February 17, 2013 6:30AM
When the “official newsletter of the city of Portage” arrived in my mail box last week, I immediately had two responses.
“Hey, this is pretty impressive,” I first thought as a 33-year city resident, thumbing through the glossy 16-page magazine-style publication.
But then, as a 17-year newspaper journalist, I wondered, “Who paid for this? Where did it come from? Is anything behind it? And, so THAT’S how our city administrators look, huh?”
It seems I’m not the only Portage resident to have mixed feelings about Portage Mayor James Snyder’s first newsletter, a publication the city will mail to homeowners every three months.
“Do you mean the highest-costing newsletter of all time?” a friend of mine asked me sarcastically. “Yeah, I got mine, too. But is it really needed?”
This appears to be the crux of the issue regarding the newsletter, which cost roughly $11,500 to design, print and mail the 16,000 or so copies.
Portage City Councilman Mark Oprisko also has voiced public criticism over the newsletter, alleging political motives are behind it. Along with a few residents who contacted me, they say photos are unneeded of the mayor and his two young children, hauling a new trash tote.
In hindsight, does Snyder regret using photos of his kids?
“Of course not,” he told me. “They are actually excited about the changes in recycling and garbage, and they are surprisingly engaged as children in what is happening which was the Portage’s largest initiative last year.”
The newsletter’s primary focus is on the city’s upcoming transfer to a new trash and recycling pick-up system, starting next month. It’s a controversial upgrade for some residents, as all changes seem to be.
“How going green in trash collection means more green for your city,” states a line on the cover of the newsletter. “Plus, several other newsworthy stories about your city.”
Inside, there are indeed several stories and columns about Portage, written by Snyder and other city officials, including the clerk-treasurer, police chief and fire chief. And contact information, too, for all of them, as well as a phone number, email address, and Facebook page info for Snyder.
The most newsworthy story, however, is on the new trash/recycling system, explaining how it will be more efficient, more effective and more cost-friendly in the long haul.
“The cost of all of the marketing materials we have used in Portage — pamphlets, magnets, newsletter and materials — will be recouped in the first two weeks of recycling, at the national average,” Snyder told me when I asked about the newsletter’s cost.
“The materials and newsletter are a small investment in literally millions in savings in the next three years,” he added, noting it was paid for from various city funds.
“For example, the Portage Parks sent out a yearly park letter to specific residents and now they will use the same funds to send the newsletter to all residents using a much cheaper bulk rate rather than the typical first-class rate,” Snyder explained.
Despite claims that the newsletter was designed out of state, per its billing invoice, Snyder said it was designed in Chesterton and printed at a union print shop in Portage.
“They are members of the (Greater) Portage Chamber of Commerce,” Snyder said.
Regardless of where it was created, as a city resident I’m still impressed with the newsletter and every time I show it to someone from outside the city, the response is the same.
“Wow, this is really nice,” they say, thumbing through it.
Newsletters from other cities are either tucked inside a water bill, for example, or typed onto a few pages in a newspaper-style format. Does it pass along the same basic info? Probably. Does it look as nice? Probably not.
Critics claim that Snyder’s newsletter is nothing more than a political-minded puff piece to showcase himself and his administration. Snyder countered by noting, “We are three years from an election in Portage. City newsletters with a picture of their mayor and bipartisan clerk-treasurer are common and Portage residents are relieved to know what is happening in their city.”
I agree with him on this issue. As a long-time resident, I’m always happy to be better informed on city projects, policies and personnel.
If you recall, former Mayor Olga Velazquez also put out a city newsletter with her photo and an achievement, and it was roundly regarded as political propaganda during her campaign run.
Another issue, according to some critics, doesn’t revolve around the content of Snyder’s newsletter as much as its packaging.
Snyder said his newsletter was modeled from several versions of other cities’ newsletters, but the final product is “unique to Portage.” It is certainly unique to Portage in that it’s already controversial with partisan politics involved. This is no surprise.
Could the newsletter have been made cheaper, with fewer whistles and bells? Sure. Could it have been designed with, say, photos of other Portage residents instead of the mayor and his kids? Sure. And maybe future newsletters may reflect these concerns.
But overall, I’m in favor of the newsletter, its content and its updates on city functions. And since I partly paid for it as well (in fiscal theory), its cost isn’t a major concern to me. I’m sure there are countless other taxpayer-funded endeavors in my city, Porter County and this state, that would raise red flags to me.
This newsletter — glossy pages and all — isn’t one of them.
Listen to Jerry’s “Casual Fridays” radio show each Friday at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.thelakeshorefm.com.