Long talked about but never acted on, Pendleton City Council heartily endorsed the idea of hiring a city spokesman at a workshop Tuesday.
The proposal was one of several recommendations made in a communications plan, a draft of which was presented at the workshop.
After the council expressed interest in improving city communication, City Manager Robb Corbett approached InterMountain Education Service District spokeswoman Michele Madril about creating a communication plan.
Madril said the IMESD offers communications services as a part of its entrepreneurial division. The city is paying the IMESD up to $1,500 for Madril’s report.
Using feedback from six department heads, Corbett and Madril produced an eight-page document detailing ways the city can improve internal and external communication.
The proposal that seemed to draw the most support from the council was the recommendation to hire a designated communications employee.
“We need a communication-focused department,” Councilor Chuck Wood said. “One or two people, somewhere in the city, that’s their job. Whether its a full-time job or a part-time job, I don’t know.”
Although many councilors were excited to hire someone who could share their side of the story, the plan also advised the council against directing all lines of communication through a spokesman.
“(The) very nature of city organization makes it necessary for direct communication to happen between elected officials/city departments/city employees and citizens,” the plan states. “It is not feasible to funnel all communication through a central point of contact or department.”
Citing letters to the editor and editorials in the East Oregonian, Councilor John Brenne asked if a designated persons should respond to criticism the council feels is factually incorrect.
Although the city should respond if its a particularly egregious error, Madril said responding sometimes exacerbates the issue rather than quells it.
“My big thing that I go by is that I can control my message, I can control what I put out there,” she said. “I cannot control what other people are going to say, but I can consistently keep saying my message and I think that’s important.”
Madril said that a plan and a communications officer could lessen backlash, but it won’t eliminate it completely.
Councilor McKennon McDonald agreed with Madril.
“People are going to have their own thoughts about everything and we’re all going to have differing thoughts about it, so the people should be able to write those letters too ... As long as we have our piece along with it, then people can make up their minds in a more educated way,” McDonald said.
Discussion of a public information officer spilled over into other topics.
The council reached a consensus that the city shouldn’t seek another ballot measure in 2016, with some councilors reasoning that the extra time could be used to get a spokesman to help communicate the city’s perspective on tax proposals.
Some city officials cited a lack of communication in the demise of a proposed 5-cent gas tax on the ballot last November.
Corbett said he would take the feedback on the draft from the council and come back with a more specific recommendation on how to hire a communications specialist.
Contact Antonio Sierra at email@example.com or 541-966-0836.