Wednesday 8 October 2008

Get over it Meredith

Following a number of appalling emails originating from senior officials at Cairns Regional Council that I published over recent days, all staff have been warned to wake up their ideas.

Council's new Manager of Corporate Communications, Kerie Hull, a former ABC journalist, has sent out a strong warning to all staff, to watch how they communicate with residents.

"Recent incidences have highlighted the need to remind staff about email protocols," she said in a message yesterday. "Email is both convenient and dangerous in that it is an immediate communication device for better and worse."

The stern warning follows exposes on CairnsBlog about Councillor Alan Blake's email reply to a resident, and Council employee Meredith Wilsch, who, as Community Relations Engagement Co-ordinator', demanded people stop sending her emails.

"Sometimes we should let the emotion settle prior to response," Kerie Hull explained to all staff. "It is often difficult not to take some issues personally but we must remind ourselves that we are here to serve the residents of this community which means accepting feedback and facilitating action where possible."

Meredith Wilsch was told to simply 'get over it, and delete it', instead of respond to the writer. Rob Reilly, Council's Senior Revenue and Collections officer, and Brett Grosser, general manager for Corporate Services were also called in for questioning, following their internal emails that I published yesterday. They have caused great embarrassment for the Council, at a time when relationships with the former Douglas Shire residents are extremely tender.

"It was not the right thing to say," Kerie Hull said. "There is a policy, and we expect everyone to follow that."

A recent team briefing informed Council staff that protocols and email etitquite must be adhered to. Kerie Hull issued the following rules for all staff to follow. That includes you too Councillor Blake. Oh, and Robbie Pyne, we all know about your behaviour on email.
    Email is an essential tool in our work, and the capacity to use email to communicate with the public carries with it certain responsibilities. Council's Internet and Email Usage Admin Instruction (No. xxx) provides guidelines for the efficient, cost effective and authorised use of internet and email services.
    Staff should also note the following email etiquette tips to ensure good email usage:-
  • Emails sent from Council are official documents, and your email may form part of a request for access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Email should be treated with the same significance as the signed letter.
  • Use good judgement and think carefully about your email contents, especially if the matter is considered sensitive.
  • Transmission of material that might bring council into disrepute is prohibited. Sensitive or confidential information can easily be disclosed via email. Never send or keep email that you would be worried about seeing on the news, quoted, printed or forwarded to others.
  • Be very careful when forwarding emails. You should not forward someone else's email, without prior permission of the original sender. This is particularly important if the email deals with sensitive or confidential matters.
  • E-mail doesn't have the visual or auditory cues of spoken or face-to-face conversation, so it's easy to be misunderstood or to offend someone. Be polite, professional and careful about what you write, especially about others. Keep the message polite and don't write in upper case as this is considered as 'shouting'.
  • Use sensible subject lines, and keep your messages concise and to the point.
  • Always include a signature block at the bottom of email messages.
  • Don't expect an instant response – email is not a substitute for a phone conversation. If you need to resolve a matter quickly, call or speak face-to-face with the other person.

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