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November 19, 2013

Jeffersonville officials iron out communications department

Deal struck by City Council to retain ProMedia

JEFFERSONVILLE — It came down to a choice between going back to an individual or sticking with a company.

The Jeffersonville City Council held a workshop Monday to discuss the city’s options on what to do for its communications department. While some council members favored the idea of going back to hiring an individual to control the city’s communications, the company that has been representing Jeffersonville for the last year won out, but will be paid less.

The back-and-forth on funding New Albany-based ProMedia’s contract for next year was resolved at the workshop Monday, but not before several council members expressed their desire to see the city re-hire a full-time communications director.

ProMedia took over the communications department in November 2012, in large part, to quell concerns of political posturing that had taken over the communications department. The council moved the previous communications director, Leah Farris, under the parks department to get her an “arm’s length” away from the mayor’s office. After Farris was moved under the control of the parks department, she was let go by the administration.

ProMedia was seen as a compromise at the time the company was hired. Corporation Attorney Les Merkley said hiring a third-party contractor to handle the city’s communications was designed to take some of the politics out of the position.

ProMedia Owner Dan Williamson said when his company was brought in he was supposed to manage the city’s homepage on its website, its social media outlets and allow the city departments to manage their own web pages within the city’s website. But not all city departments have kept up on managing the web pages.

The council previously hosted a public workshop with Williamson to review a revised proposal for 2014. The biggest issue was, and remained, the cost for ProMedia’s contract. In 2013 the company was paid $57,600 annually. Additional services contracted with other city departments —the parks department and the city’s Redevelopment Commission— pushed the total amount ProMedia was paid to about $87,000.

The breakdown in cost Williamson provided at the previous workshop with the council outlined fees at $1,500 for the city’s social media campaign that includes managing its Twitter and Facebook accounts, $750 for monthly management of the city’s homepage, $1,750 to produce monthly video news releases and $500 for additional website maintenance and updates. The total for services is about $4,500 per month, or $54,000 annually.

One of the sticking points Monday remained paying $1,500 for ProMedia to manage Jeffersonville’s social media content.

“I have talked to a ton of people about this and they are wondering why the cost is so much,” said Councilman Dennis Julius of the social media content. “I just think with two full-time IT people, we should be able to do some of this in-house.”

Julius, along with Councilmen Nathan Samuel and Ed Zastawny, also expressed their desire to return to having an individual handle the city’s communications.

“I liked it better when we had an employee here,” Zastawny said.

He said the advantage was having someone who was always around and in-house that was easily accessible for city officials to contact.

“I think either way could work, but the two ways I’ve seen so far, I think it’s better to have an internal person,” Zastawny said.

He added the flaws that existed in the communications department with Farris was that she did not meet the qualifications required for the position. Zastawny said if the council outlined specific, minimum qualifications for what they wanted the communications director to do, and have the Human Resources department sift through the applicants, the city could find an appropriate person for the job. Zastawny added that it would ultimately be the mayor’s decision on who was hired, as long as the person met the minimum requirements.

City Council President Connie Sellers said she was concerned that the city could not find the right person to fill the job. And Councilman Matt Owen questioned the costs of going back to a communications director.

“I’m not sure where we’re getting equity going back to a full-time person?” he asked. “If we’re paying somebody $40,000 a year and they have a $15,000 benefits package, we’re spending more than what we had this meeting to discuss [spending].”

A motion to return to having a full-time communication’s director failed by a vote of 4-3, with Council members Lisa Gill, Owen and Sellers voting against. A five-person majority is required for an affirmative vote and Councilmen Zach Payne and Mike Smith were absent from the workshop.

Following the vote to hire an individual to take over the city’s communications, an approval was granted 6-1, with Julius voting against, to move forward with ProMedia as Jeffersonville’s public relations manager.

“We’re OK spending $1,500-a-month for social media?” Julius asked before the vote was taken.

A change to the contract approved by the council was that the funding for the video news releases included in ProMedia’s scope of work were cut. The monthly cost was $1,750, which reduced the annual contract total from $54,000 to $33,000.

The contract will still need to go to the Board of Public Works for approval.

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