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Behind-the-scenes in The City of North Liberty.

From relaying city news to coordinating organized community events, the Communications Department plays an important role in the City of North Liberty. (Left to right) Communications Specialist Derek Blackman, Community Engagement Coordinator Jillian Miller and Communications Director Nick Bergus. (photo by Cale Stelken)

NORTH LIBERTY– Few ingredients are more vital to the integrity of a community than its ability to stay informed on city activity and celebrate camaraderie through organized events. But how are these feats accomplished for a growing city such as North Liberty?
Enter Nick Bergus, Director of the city’s Communications Department. Be it through fostering special events or offering residents context for city announcements, his team provides a crucial backdrop to the everyday bustle that is North Liberty.
But it wasn’t always this way as Bergus explained. In the era of VHS and Betamax, the former Telecommunications Department was a far more limited operation, volunteer run and relying on more basic technology to broadcast educational programming.
“The department started when North Liberty had cable TV, way back in the day, before YouTube, before Facebook Live and the plethora of videos tools that are available now.” Begus recalled. “It was a way for us to show content about city government, or the public to cablecast whatever program they wanted, within some pretty generous deadlines.”
However, with the broadening variety of communication outlets, the restrictive nature of public access broadcasting began to show its age.
“The value of being able to show city meetings and public educational content on a cable channel, that was only available in North Liberty and only to subscribers to those cable channels, became less valuable,” Bergus elaborated.
Thanks in part to more liberating technologies, the limitations of the Telecommunications Department began to lift, and over the last twenty years, the city enlisted dedicated staff. Its operation experienced an evolution of sorts.
“We really started focusing on social media as an outlet, videos online as an outlet; we stream all of our meetings.”
While content is still available through Mediacom and South Slope, live stream capability has empowered residents in new ways.
“It gives viewers a lot more flexibility and it gives us the ability to still use video, to talk about what the city’s doing and why, and to maybe do that in an easier to consume way,” he added. “Folks are on Facebook, and they can see and share news and information about this city right there.“
Bergus, who joined the Telecommunications Department in August 2008, insisted the team be renamed to suit its evolving nature. By 2013, Bergus was promoted to Communications Director, and the outfit was renamed the Communications Department to more appropriately describe it’s modern role in facilitating city information.
“I never thought I’d be involved in keeping the event planning when I came to this city,” Bergus remarked on his multi-faceted role. However, with a background in news and multimedia, his diverse resume has proven invaluable to the position.
“Journalism was my primary background before coming here; I’ve covered the school board for the Leader, as a stringer for several years. I got into multimedia... So I had this background of news and reporting, storytelling in a variety of platforms, and I think that’s served me pretty well.”
The department has expanded into developing and implementing new community engagement efforts, as well as public relations, marketing and promotional activities. Bergus’s teammates bring a variety of backgrounds and skills to the table to meet these objectives.
“We’re a small team, so we all have a certain level of utility player,” he said. “Julie comes from a background of producing large community events and brought a lot of her skills and background to helping take Blues and& BBQ, Beat the Bitter and new events, and making those bigger and better.”
But for all of its changes, the Communications Department still relies on skills harkening back to its origins.
“We still have a lot of video needs here, so Eric has a background in video. He went to school for art, so he’s got a background in video and photography.”
Bergus added the department is currently in the process of adding a fourth member to assist its video needs.
While the team is responsible for corralling local businesses to support community events, it continues to report on local news, taking complex topics such as highway construction and city budgeting and making them easier for residents to digest. Bergus makes a priority of community outreach, taking to task with precision and clarity to help residents better understand the efforts behind city governing.
“I think our goal here is to help the community know what the city’s doing and why it’s doing it, and that’s an important part of transparency,” he affirmed.
Lastly, the director elaborated on the Communications Department’s forward-thinking role in facilitating activities that cultivate a sense of fellowship and investment among residents.
“They want to feel connected to where they live; that’s why we do events; that’s why we try to get folks together in the dead of winter for Beat the Bitter,” he said. “So people get out of the house and feel connected to this place, and help people feel connected to this city that’s working on their behalf, whether that’s through road projects or other initiatives that are undertaking to make North Liberty a better place to live.”