The Columbus mayor and City Council voted to hire a public information officer Wednesday during a special work session, but city officials were quick to deny media reports and rumors the position already had been filled.
Council members split evenly on the decision to hire an information officer for the city and Columbus Municipal School District to direct information and manage city Web sites. Mayor Robert Smith cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of creating the position.
The information officer”s $45,000 salary will be shared equally by the city and the CMSD.
“We haven”t really set out all the details yet, because we are thinking Columbus Light and Water may want to use the PIO, as well. It would be great if they could kick in a third of that cost,” said Columbus Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong, who denied speculation WCBI Assignments Editor Steve Rogers had been tapped for the job.
“If the position were offered, I would certainly be interested,” Rogers said this morning. “The city”s got a lot of things going on that aren”t well distributed or publicized. (City departments) all do a very good job but operate very disparately.”
Council members and city officials have not yet determined the hiring process for the information officer. They likewise have not yet received any applications for the position, according to Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin.
“All we did yesterday was agree to put money in next year”s budget for that position,” Gavin said Thursday. “We haven”t hired anyone yet, and we don”t have any applicants right now, as far as I know.”
When the city begins looking for PIO candidates, Columbus officials likely will publicly advertise the position before hiring anyone, Armstrong explained.
“I”m not sure if there is any law that says we have to advertise the position or anything,” Armstrong said. “But we usually go through an advertising process with things like this, and I assume we will do the same with this position.”
Columbus Chief of Police Joseph St. John ardently supported the hiring of an information officer.
“Somebody”s already doing it on our staff,” St. John told the council.
He explained that hiring someone specifically to handle public relations and information duties will free police employees who are sharing the duty of updating the department Web site to focus on their original jobs and the same will apply to other city departments.
“That person would pay for himself,” said St. John.
In other matters, the council:
n Voted to increase the city”s beautification budget to $20,000.
The new beautification budget is more than double the $9,000 set aside for 2009. Beautification projects went over budget for 2009 resulting in total expenditures of $12,271.
Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem was the council”s lone dissenting voice.
“I don”t think it”s necessary to increase the beautification budget when there”s so much more we need,” said Karriem.
n Voted down a return to the ward system of government, a system of governance which provides more autonomy to each city ward.
Mayor Robert Smith stated that a switch to the ward system would require an increase in public works employees from the 59 workers currently employed to 97.
Public Works Director Mike Pratt said he spoke with public works employees who were employed during Columbus” last experiment with the ward system several years ago and they reported “it wasn”t working.”
“That”s interesting, because when I talked to them they said it worked,” replied Karriem.
n Dismissed the notion of privatizing public works. Privatization would entail opening jobs currently handled by the Department of Public Works to outside contractors.
n Discussed returning city employees to a four-day workweek, further discussed the proposed 2009-10 budget and voted to raise garbage collection fees, dumping fees and parking ticket fees.
n Allowed consultant Chris Watson to gather information on possible annexation of areas North and East of Columbus.
This story contains reporting from Dispatch Staff Writer Neal Wagner.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.