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Santa Monica's Communications Director to Leave Post

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By Jorge Casuso

February 23, 2022 -- Debbie Lee -- who turned Santa Monica's small communications staff into a department of as many as ten employees -- will leave her post, City officials announced Wednesday.

As Santa Monica's Chief Communications officer, a post she assumed in July 2014, Lee established Santa Monica's citywide communications program and developed the City's new website, City officials said.

Under her watch the communications Department grew from a staff member who handled communications and public affairs and a City TV manager to a Department that by June 2016 included a marketing team, a public information team and a Web Developer.

“Serving the Santa Monica community has been the most fulfilling, yet hardest work I’ve experienced in my career," Lee said in a statement Wednesday. "The communications team and platforms that we’ve built serve an important function to inform and engage.

“My hope is that local governments will continue to invest in systems that encourage meaningful dialogue, include all voices, and reach the most historically marginalized communities," Lee said.

City officials lauded Lee's accomplishments, noting that "her vision for strategic communications supported the City through many important milestones."

Lee also was successful at "integrating campaign strategies for the City’s top priority work areas, such as homelessness, lifelong learning and mobility," officials said.

By 2016, the City's new Office of Communications included nine employees who worked under Lee -- an administrative services officer, a public information officer, a senior marketing manager, a Cable TV manager, a web developer, a public information coordinator and three staff assistants.

Two years later, the City Council approved a $1 million contract to create a new municipal website to replace the one created in 2000.

After the coronavirus shutdown in March 2020 forced the City to eliminate nearly 500 positions, the Communications Department saw a "significant reduction" in staffing, officials said.

Throughout the shutdown and economic recovery, Lee was "instrumental in ensuring the Santa Monica community was well-informed," City officials said.

She also established the We Are Santa Monica Fund and Advisory Board, which raised more than $1.3 million to "support vulnerable residents and businesses, and launched new efforts around public-private partnerships," officials said.

“Debbie has given many years of service and talent to the City and Santa Monica community,” said City Manager David White.

“I am personally grateful she was here as I started my tenure and know that she leaves behind a lasting legacy and a strong communications program.”

Lee’s last day is March 4, City officials said. Public Information Officer Constance Farrell will serve as Acting Chief Communications Officer.

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