Mayor Andre Sayegh is hiring a public information officer for $60,000, a move that is being criticized by members of the City Council.
Public information officer is needed for outreach to the media, communications to residents through the city’s website and social media accounts, communication with government partners, and for community events to share and gather information, said Sayegh’s chief of staff Kathleen Long.
Currently, Long handles some of the city’s communications projects. She’s had difficulty dedicating time to the projects due to other responsibilities, she said. Sayegh has fundamentally altered the role of the chief of staff by turning it into a parallel position to that of the business administrator.
“We need to provide better services to the residents of this city for their taxes. Some of our biggest requests are in the area of communications – encouraging us to improve our website and keep the content current; telling us to use social media more to communicate everything from street closures to weather events; and asking for more town hall style events to communicate directly with the community,” said Long. “The Public Information Officer will be in charge of doing just this, along with numerous other tasks, with no increase to the budget.”
Some council members questioned whether the position is needed at a time property owners absorbed a triple tax – municipal, school, and sewer – increase.
“I didn’t know we had that kind of money in the budget,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman. “I thought we had a constituent services person for that responsibility as well as taking complaints and the chief of staff, who just got a $10,000 increase.”
Sayegh is funding the hire using money freed up by the retirement of Alana Onorato. She had been making $75,000, according to the mayor. A portion of it covered the chief of staff’s pay increase.
“This position replaces that retirement with no change to the salary budget,” said Long.
McKoy said the city can’t afford to hire a public information officer. He said the constituent services, the chief of staff, and directors should be communicating to the public what is occurring in their departments. He also pointed out the mayor had said he’d be the “cheerleader in chief” while campaigning for the city’s top job last year.
“The public safety director does a good job. The rest of the department directors should do the same,” said McKoy. “I don’t see a critical need for that position at this time given our financial situation. You don’t add to your problems. You try to minimize them.”
McKoy suggested the city hire a project manager with that money instead. Having a project manager could have prevented the $2.1 million jump in sewer repair costs for the problem-plagued project on Memorial Drive, he said. “Not paying attention to that cost us over $2 million,” he said.
“The new administration just raised taxes,” said Flavio Rivera, councilman at-large, chairman of the finance committee. “We have to be mindful of our fiscal situation.”
McKoy wanted to know who had been hired for the position. Long said the administration will announce the new team member early this week. She said the position was posted from Apr. 16 through 26, 2019.
“We interviewed four applicants, and we hired a Patersonian,” said Long.
Rivera said the new hire was not discussed in the new personnel committee.
“It’s not a good example of being fiscally prudent. Not every dollar that comes into your hand, you should be spending,” said McKoy. “You have to put some of that away for a rainy day.”