Both public information officers would handle media requests as well as promote the city through press releases and public functions.
Although commissioners had discussed the need for a public information officer in city hall before, most agreed Monday that after the shooting of Trayvon Martin in February the city and police department needed to streamline their messages to the public and the media.
Mayor Jeff Triplett said, “We had a huge communication breakdown. I’m not blaming anyone but it was problem.”
The new approach to public relations, commissioners said Monday, should be more proactive rather than reactive.
“We need to be in front of it, rather than behind it,” said Triplett.
The public information officer position for city hall will be filled by Administrative Coordinator Lisa Mosca – an employee who handled the majority of public relation efforts following the death of Martin.
During that time City Manager Norton Bonaparte also brought in representatives from Massey Communications to help with the rapid rise in media requests.
Mosca, who also currently performs administrative duties for economic development and the city’s Community Block Development Grant, will now be able to focus all her efforts on promoting the city through a new website, social media, public events and press releases.
Interim Police Chief Richard Myers also requested the city create a separate public information officer position for public safety – the police and fire departments – to handle their public relations.
Sanford Police Capt. Darren Scott said currently the department utilizes sergeants to act as public information officers, however those sergeants do not have the time to handle requests on top of their regular workload.
“We want someone to stay ahead of the game,” said Scott.
Fire Chief Jerry Ransom agreed, saying the use of public information would especially help to disseminate information during emergencies.
Commissioners were amenable to the idea, stating the two officers needed to work together to disseminate information about the city.
Commissioner Velma Williams said, “The City of Sanford would have to have a philosophy about public information and how it should be done.”
Commissioner Mark McCarty expressed concern about hiring a public information officer for the police department before a permanent chief was brought in by the city. However, Bonaparte said the order shouldn’t matter, because a new chief should be on board with the city’s plan for public relations.
“We know where we want to go. If anything the new chief would come aboard with us knowing where we plan to go in terms of public information,” said Bonaparte.
Both positions were approved during the evening meeting Monday and funding for the positions will be included in next year’s budget.