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City officials vote to hire public information officer, deny position is already filled


Jason Browne



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.




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Reader Comments

Article Comment Thom Geiger commented at 8/23/2009 12:18:00 PM:

I know I am a tad slow in the thinking department, so I'll ask just to make sure I understand what happened at this "special work session"...
1. The meeting was held in the old city hall court room, a place where there are no cameras to broadcast the meeting on local cable.
2. The meeting was held at a time when the mayor and council know that taxpayers and voters who work during the daylight hours couldn't attend.
3. There were votes taken on the people's business at this "special work session".
4. Contentious and controversial topics (annexation, privatization, new positions) and issues of public interest were discussed, in a room with no public access TV coverage and at a time when the majority of working taxpayers and voters could not attend.
5. I saw no posted or printed agenda for this "special work session", and I'd be interested in hearing if any other private citizen saw one.
6. No mention of the impropriety of this effort, to move the people's business to the place and time this "special work session" was held, is anywhere to be found on the WCBI or Dispatch web sites.


Article Comment Neil Tentoni commented at 8/24/2009 3:03:00 PM:

I hope this is not another "I know you, you know me" deal going on with our leaders to give a buddy a job. I just moved back to the area from Arkansas a month ago after being budget cut out of my job. It is great to be home again, but when a man with a college degree and 20 plus years of sales and management experience can't find a suitable work around here...things start to get desparate. Where can I apply for this job?


Article Comment Neil Tentoni commented at 8/24/2009 3:07:00 PM:

For those who noticed my typo....I did mean "find suitable work around here." Anyone hiring...full or part-time? Contact me at [email protected] Over 30 applications in and no word from anyone.


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