The Ottawa firm spearheading the public consultation about the City's finances is downplaying the social media uproar over the project's rollout.
On Monday, the City of Hamilton announced it was embarking on a campaign called Our Voice, Our Hamilton to engage the public in a discussion about the future of municipal services and how to deal with the City's $195-million annual infrastructure deficit.
The online rollout drew a harsh response from people on social media, who criticized Dialogue Partners, the company that the City has hired to undertake the project, for being out of touch with Hamiltonians.
On Monday night, McMaster student Eric Gillis sent the Our Voice, Our Hamilton Twitter account a public message, advocating for the “continuation of voluntary pay for [people with disabilities] on the HSR.”
Our Voice, Our Hamilton responded by saying, “we launched officially today. Thks for the comment - what is 'HSR' just so we can accurately capture your comment :) Thanks!”
HSR is the acronym for The Hamilton Street Railway Company, the city's public transit system.
The question sparked a firestorm on Twitter, with some Hamilton users accusing Dialogue Partners of being, among other things, “a garbage public relations firm.”
The company, which the City is paying close to $400,000 for its services, responded to the outcry Tuesday.
“To be honest, I know that there's been some concern and I welcome that,” said Stephani Roy McCallum, managing director of Dialogue Partners.
“To me, it says that people are concerned and that they care and they're connected to their community.”
Roy McCallum played down the Twitter reaction to the project, adding that the social media comments don't represent the views of many Hamiltonians. She said that only 24 hours after the launch of the Our Voice, Our Hamilton website, users had already contributed 50 responses to the page's online survey.
“I would say very few of them reference the same comments from on Twitter.”
In reference to the HSR gaffe, Roy McCallum said the person wrote the tweet knowing that the acronym referred to Hamilton's public transit system, but wanted to be absolutely sure.
“We want to be really certain not to assume what people are talking about.”
The City hired Dialogue Partners last May for the 13-month project.
The firm has taken on similar budget consultation projects in Ottawa, Edmonton and more recently, in Calgary.
“I think they started off on the wrong foot,” said Sam Merulla, councillor for Ward 4, said of Dialogue Partner's work in Hamilton.
However, he characterized the online furor against the company as “premature” and said the public should be patient in allowing the project to unfold.
“I think one thing we have succeeded in is creating awareness,” he laughed. “And [Dialogue Partners] have done it in a very short period of time.
"I'm sure it wasn't by design, but I do commend them on creating such awareness in a 12-hour span.”