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Council Approves Sweeping Reorganization of Santa Monica’s Public Communications Department

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

September 9, 2015 -- The Santa Monica City Council Tuesday unanimously approved a major restructuring of the City’s approach to public communications, adding five employees at a cost of $539,649 for the rest of this fiscal year and jumping to nearly $600,000 next July.

Under the restructuring proposed by Debbie Lee, the City’s communications and public affairs officer, the existing Community & Government Relations unit of the City Manager’s Office will be folded into the Office of Communications.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich, who pulled the motion for discussion, questioned whether so many employees were needed for the reorganized communications office.

But City Manager Rick Cole said the restructuring is necessary to meet the rapid-fire demands of the Internet and such social network sites as Facebook and Twitter.

It’s “the Internet Age,” he told the Council, adding that the City needs a team that can keep up with the changes the new era has brought, including the ever-growing number of web sites the public uses to get its news and information.

The expanded office will focus on “active, continuous and two-way communication” with residents, businesses and visitors, Cole told the Council.

“The world has changed,” Lee wrote in her report to the Council. “Information is constantly sought and shared across multiple platforms. Communication and technology are shaping society. The City must be able to quickly engage with the public in a strategic and transparent manner and evolve as the mediums do.

“Restructuring the unit to be the Office of Communications and organizing a team of communications specialists,” Lee wrote, “would allow the Manager’s office to administer proactive ‘brand,’ graphic and communications standards, and deliver consistent, timely information and outreach to the community.”

The reorganization would include a net increase of five fulltime employees in the Office of Communications and one position in the Information Systems Department.  The cost of $539,649 for the 2015‑16 fiscal year includes $441,149 for staff and $98,500 for one- time set-up costs.

For the full 2016-2017 fiscal year, the cost would be $595,531, according to the plan approved by the Council.

Cole said the City had been relying on employees from various departments with a knack for communications and outreach to conduct public information functions – but that the City had no one to coordinate such efforts. For the last decade, the City’s communications operations have been decentralized, officials said.

In the past, Lee said, City staff collaborated on larger projects that included various departments, and “outreach” and communications was typically the responsibility of the project lead. On many occasions, communications were outsourced to a public relations firm or marketing agency.

“This decentralized model, while functional, does not always lend towards staff efficiency, cost effectiveness or consistent messaging across the organization,” Lee wrote in her report.

“While projects may continue to require assistance from firms or agencies, this new communications team would help manage outcomes from outsourced work, to avoid inefficiencies and duplicative work.

California cities such as Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Monterey, Sacramento and Palo Alto have similar operations, Lee said.

Included in the overhaul would be the addition of one fulltime Administrative Services Officer, a new position; a fulltime senior marketing manager (a new position offset by the deletion of a Community Relations Coordinator position); a fulltime Public Information Officer, a new position; a fulltime Cable TV Manager (a new position offset by the deletion of the position of Cable TV and Public Information Manager); a fulltime Marketing/Communications Assistant, a new position; and a fulltime Web Developer.

Also included would be a fulltime Staff Assistant II, a new position, and an as-needed Graphic Designer, a new position.

Salaries listed in the motion are $10,270-a-month for the cable TV manager; $5,143-a-month for the marketing/communications assistant; $10,270-a-month for the public information officer and $10,270-a-month for the senior marketing manager.

Revenue for the changes would come from general revenues in the City’s 2015-2017 $1.1 billion biennial budget. General revenues are used to fund most City functions, and are projected to top $757 million over the next two years, officials said.

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