Engaging the Royal Oak Community: Judy Davids

Engaging the Royal Oak Community: Judy DavidsReid_Sally_115

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Nov. 18, 2014)

 

If you want to know what’s going on in Royal Oak, just ask Judy Davids. For three years this was a fact known to all who followed Davids’ work as Editor of the Royal Oak Patch. And now that the website is all but gone, Davids has moved on to an even more endearing role, serving as Community Engagement Specialist for the city she that she loves.

“Judy is the best thing to happen to the city in terms of public relations,” said Mayor Jim Ellison. “She’s great at social media, and getting info out there to our residents. She’s right there to listen to people, and find out Jim Shaffer KELLER ad blackwhat they need. One thing was she figured out a way to share snow plowing updates, but where she really pulled through was the flood. She got information out there, dispatched volunteers, and even schlepped stuff out of basements herself for people that needed help. She showed what Royal Oak’s community spirit is all about.”

Davids’ tasks as Community Engagement Specialist are not set in stone. Because it is a newly created position, defining it at the beginning was not very practical. “Even ideas that I had before I started would not have been exactly right. You don’t know what the community needs until you’re really right here in the middle of it. I’m still finding my way and learning what goes on here every day, learning what they’re missing, figuring out what the needs of the community are and also what’s the best way for department heads to communicate with each other,” Davids said. She started in March and is taking the first year to get settled in, learn what tasks naturally rise to the top in her job, and working on a communications plan for moving forward.lisa schmidt law

Mayor Ellison said the idea for her position came about two years ago during the planning process. “We knew we needed someone who could do community outreach and that things like Facebook would be important, so we thought let’s create this communications position. It happened that we opened this position at about the same time Patch was letting their editors go, so we were lucky enough that Judy applied.”

With three years doing local journalism Davids was already familiar with many of the ins and outs of the City. She also brought with her experiences with the public and with business owners that help her understand the needs of those groups, and many years of being an involved parent in Royal Oak Schools.

Part of her job is to be out in the community, attending as many meetings as possible- everything from the Retail Association to the Pastors Association. The difference now is that instead of writing about them, she uses what she learns to connect people and projects. “It doesn’t matter what meeting you go to, no matter how seed015_kathryn_balcersmall, it has useful information.” Recently a business had furniture they wanted to donate, so they used the “just call Judy” approach. Now the furniture is being used in churches that host warming centers for the homeless.

Facilitating meetings for the public on behalf of the city is also another key part of her work. After seeing ways that public meetings can go awry, particularly when the topic is a contentious one, Davids figured out a way to keep things informative and civil.

“I feel good about the way the forum on Normandy Oaks went,” Davids said. The City of Royal Oak had a proposal on the ballot to close the Normandy Oaks golf course, sell part of the land for new home development, and use the money to make improvements to the rest of the land as a family-oriented public park. “It was a good example of people coming together. There were very different opinions of what should gallowaycollens1happen but we had a very civilized forum,” she said. Often forums get away from the organizers. People ask repetitive questions. They ask questions in a hostile way or even make attacks. And they tend to use question time as a soapbox, talking as long as they are allowed, instead of asking a question. She noted that “if a few people are really passionate, it makes other people feel uncomfortable about asking their questions or getting involved in the conversation.” In order for all viewpoints and questions to be heard, Davids set up a format where people put their questions on cards so they could be read in a neutral way and answered by the people involved in the project. She set clear rules about being respectful, but also ensured that the panelists would stay until every question was answered. “We went for hours but stayed true to the promise. Every question got answered and everyone learned from it.” She said that it was not just intended to sell the public on the idea of the park, but that it helped draw out new questions and ideas that the City’s been able to use too.

Living in Royal Oak with her family, and now an exchange student, is a dream for Davids, with working for the city being the icing on the cake. “I really enjoy answering the phone or when residents come in. I love being able to connect people and help them when they have things they are not happy about. I can’t always give them the answer thy want, but sometimes just being listened to, and knowing what is going on, makes a difference.”

Davids won the Citizen of the Year Award in October, and said she enjoys waking up every morning to come in for her “dream job.”

To learn more about the City of Royal Oak, check out their website at http://www.ci.royal-oak.mi.us/.

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