By BRADEN LAMMERS
A tentative deal may have been reached to fund Jeffersonville’s communications department after the city council cut its budget earlier this month.
The city’s communications budget was cut out of the 2014 budget the council approved Monday on its final readings. The budget was submitted to the state and will likely be certified early next spring by the Department of Local Government Finance.
City Council President Connie Sellers said the removal of the entire communications budget by the council was an error.
“The only thing we wanted cut was the newsletter,” Sellers said. “I think we’re going to make a special appropriation next meeting to add that back in. I think we’ve got it worked it out.”
The council is expected to meet at its next regular meeting on Nov. 4.
Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore was upset when he found out the communications budget was cut. He said ProMedia is meeting the goal of what a communications department should do, informing people, and has black and white numbers that show the growth. While he agreed that he spoke with Sellers Wednesday, he said he wasn’t sure that a deal was worked out.
Earlier in the week City Councilman Dennis Julius sent out an email to the council that requested ProMedia’s budget be cut for 2014.
“The only other change I would like to make is for ProMedia,” Julius wrote. “I am not in support of $4,500 per month for social networking. I think we have cut the newsletter and I would like to cut this as well.”
Multiple calls to Julius Wednesday were not returned as of press time.
Dan Williamson, owner of ProMedia Group, said he met with four council members last week and gave a presentation as to what ProMedia has done to publicize the city before the 2014 budget had been completed.
According to a presentation given by ProMedia, the city’s Facebook page averaged about 35,000 page views during the first three quarters of the year and about 17,000 unique visits during the second and third quarters this year.
“My goal in coming in and partnering with the city was to cast the positive and there is a lot of good that isn’t always communicated,” Williamson said. “It’s positive messaging. My whole goal was to find those stories, get those stories and put a spotlight on them to let the people know there are great things going on in the city.”
ProMedia was hired by the city’s administration after its previous communications director was fired.
Before Leah Farris, the city’s former communications director was terminated, the city council moved the money to fund the position under the city’s parks department.
City Councilman Ed Zastawny said the council supported Farris, but the move to the parks department was to ensure that she was doing more than serving as the mayor’s communications director. After the move to the parks department, Farris was let go and the board of public works contracted with ProMedia in November 2012 to take over the city’s communication duties.
The deal drawn up at the time paid ProMedia $4,800 per month, or $57,600 annually. According to the city’s budget in 2013, the communications department funding was in a parks department line item for a newsletter. But the costs were a combined total for both a quarterly newsletter and the salary for a communications director, which was being filed by the contract with ProMedia.
The line item totaled $87,400 in 2013. That line item was removed in 2014.
An attempt was made to move the funding into the board of public works budget earlier this year, after a certified budget was returned by the Department of Local Government Finance. The council voted in April on an appropriation ordinance to address cuts made to the parks budget, but chose not to move the requested $87,400 from the parks budget into the board of public works budget.
City Controller Amy Deering said for 2014, the money for communications was moved to the board of public works budget and was within the “other services” line item. The total requested in the other services line item in 2013 was $31,640. The new total requested in 2014 totaled $107,600.
“We had moved that budget in the proposal for next year into the board of public works,” Deering said. “That’s technically where it was cut from during the meeting.”
The amount the council approved was $31,640, cutting the $75,960 that was designated for communications.
WHAT PROMEDIA HAS DONE
When the New Albany-based communications company took on the role of Jeffersonville’s communications arm, it was responsible for creating a monthly video news release, maintaining the city’s social media outlets — including Twitter and Facebook — managing the city’s website and publishing a quarterly newsletter for the city.
“Every day we’re looking for ways to communicate with the residents of the city of Jeff and keep them informed of the activities of the city government — which includes the mayor’s office, includes the council, it includes all the departments within the city government — and what is going on within the city,” Williamson said.
One of the company’s main efforts is the interaction the city has on Facebook, which has more than doubled to 5,000 likes, or followers, since it took over managing the account.
“Our activity is basically to populate Facebook, Twitter and social media and the website with content news, stories and event that are pertinent to the constituency here in Jeff,” Williamson said. “The newsletter was a printed version of the activities we would do. Not everybody is connected to social media and the web, so we provide another area to do that.”
He added that the company is getting ready to launch a new website it has been working on for the city’s parks department, which is how the company became involved with Jeffersonville originally. ProMedia was hired to redesign Jeffersonville’s website when Moore’s administration took office.
The purpose behind hiring ProMedia to act as a third-party contractor for the city’s communications was to reach a compromise between the city’s administration and council over what was been disseminated in Jeffersonville’s name.
Despite highlighting the council in some content and having an open-door policy for communication, Williamson said no one took him up on the offer.
“When I, time and time again, requested council members to engage with me in communication and to let them know this vehicle is theirs, this is their ability to communicate with people, they chose not to,” Williamson said.
At the time Moore contracted with ProMedia in 2012 he said it should resolve concerns the council had cited about the position being under the administration’s direction.
City Councilman Bryan Glover, during the board of public works meeting in which the contract was approved for ProMedia, he said it was an excellent compromise that satisfies both the administration and the city council.
“They wanted to take the political nature out of the position, I think this actually does that,” he said in 2012. Glover, however, abstained from voting on the contract.
However, the cuts made to the budget, removing the communications department, were seen as a political move.
“I think it’s obvious, the council does not want transparency,” Moore said. “They are not interested in keeping the people of Jeffersonville informed.”
And Moore was not the only one who saw the move as politically motivated.
“For a city like Jeff to have such a robust communications initiative up and running for them, at such a little expense, and then for the city council to say there is no value to that, it’s just mind-boggling to me,” Williamson said. “It seems to me it is very politically motivated.”
But Sellers said the council’s intention was to cut only the city newsletter.
She added it is necessary to have someone maintain the city’s websites, but added she would like to see the council address the quarterly newsletter.
“There has to be a better way to get that out because it’s very expensive,” Sellers said.
Zastawny agreed and said he was not pleased with the newsletter, especially the most recent version that was produced.
He added that he was obviously unhappy when the contract with ProMedia was approved and would like to see the city move back to having an individual employed by the city act as its communications director.
“[I] preferred an employee, because they were in-house,” Zastawny said. “I think that was missed with the contract with ProMedia.”
Zastawny, Sellers and Councilman Nathan Samuel were all members of the city council when the communications director position was first created in 2007.
Sellers said the city does need some sort of communications effort. “We need something,” she said. “I don’t see how we can just drop it.”