City expanding communications department

The City of Nanaimo hires a $95-an-hour communications consultant and there are plans to add a full-time communications position.

Nanaimo’s communications department is “at capacity,” according to city chief administrative officer Tracy Samra, who recently hired a $95-an-hour communication consultant and plans to add a full-time employee this year.

Samra intends to grow the city’s three-person communications team with a full-time position, likely this summer as part of a “reorganization,” suggesting there are capacity issues in the department. The news also comes on the heels of Samra authorizing a contract with former Nanaimo Daily News editor Mark MacDonald, who will be paid $95 an hour to help the communications department increase social media numbers and share stories about city operations.

The City of Nanaimo hired its first communications manager, Philip Cooper in 2012, after a tight 5-4 vote by Nanaimo city council. Then-mayor John Ruttan said the position was important to create a better link of understanding on issues between the city, the media and residents.

The department has since grown by another two, with a communications and marketing specialist and a graphics specialist.

The team does an “incredible volume of work,” said Samra, not only doing media relations and writing press releases, but performing tasks such as compiling financial and annual reports and training staff members in communications.

The city is trying to find new ways of getting basic information about the day-to-day operations of the city to the citizens beyond what’s available on the Internet. MacDonald is providing consulting services, acting almost in the capacity of an editor and making recommendations and helping out with ideas.

For example, Samra said he came up with a way to make a weekly council meeting summary plain language and had an idea that each week each a department comes up with something it wants to share about its operations for a multimedia clip for the website.

“It’s getting more stories out about what everybody is doing,” she said. “It’s fresh eyes. It’s always a great idea to have somebody come in and go hey, have you tried this, have you tried that? And it gives us ideas on how to get more communications out there.”

In an e-mail, Samra called it a routine contracting decision and she would not comment on council’s opinions about an operational decision and would expect “a member of council would not comment on the professional judgment of the CAO to enter into any consulting contract or employee hire.”

She told the News Bulletin she felt MacDonald was the right person for the job because he is in town, knows the issues, is familiar with the political and community framework and is available. He’s also a journalist, an editor and “that’s one of the gaps we have,” she said, adding Cooper is not a journalist, but a communications expert in public relations and he has a lot on his plate.

“We needed some help,” she said.

MacDonald was the managing editor of the Daily News when a controversial letter about First Nations people was published. Samra said it’s not her role as the city manager to comment on something from the past.

“What I am focusing on, my decision to hire a consultant, was for the communication strategy for the city and it’s a resource that’s available for my staff and for council if they want media training.”

The job was not put out to tender. Any contract below $25,000 can be directly awarded by the relevant manager, according to Victor Mema, the city’s director of finance.

news@nanaimobulletin.com

Nanaimo’s communications department is “at capacity,” according to city chief administrative officer Tracy Samra, who recently hired a $95-an-hour communication consultant and plans to add a full-time employee this year.

Samra intends to grow the city’s three-person communications team with a full-time position, likely this summer as part of a “reorganization,” suggesting there are capacity issues in the department. The news also comes on the heels of Samra authorizing a contract with former Nanaimo Daily News editor Mark MacDonald, who will be paid $95 an hour to help the communications department increase social media numbers and share stories about city operations.

The City of Nanaimo hired its first communications manager, Philip Cooper in 2012, after a tight 5-4 vote by Nanaimo city council. Then-mayor John Ruttan said the position was important to create a better link of understanding on issues between the city, the media and residents.

The department has since grown by another two, with a communications and marketing specialist and a graphics specialist.

The team does an “incredible volume of work,” said Samra, not only doing media relations and writing press releases, but performing tasks such as compiling financial and annual reports and training staff members in communications.

The city is trying to find new ways of getting basic information about the day-to-day operations of the city to the citizens beyond what’s available on the Internet. MacDonald is providing consulting services, acting almost in the capacity of an editor and making recommendations and helping out with ideas.

For example, Samra said he came up with a way to make a weekly council meeting summary plain language and had an idea that each week each a department comes up with something it wants to share about its operations for a multimedia clip for the website.

“It’s getting more stories out about what everybody is doing,” she said. “It’s fresh eyes. It’s always a great idea to have somebody come in and go hey, have you tried this, have you tried that? And it gives us ideas on how to get more communications out there.”

In an e-mail, Samra called it a routine contracting decision and she would not comment on council’s opinions about an operational decision and would expect “a member of council would not comment on the professional judgment of the CAO to enter into any consulting contract or employee hire.”

She told the News Bulletin she felt MacDonald was the right person for the job because he is in town, knows the issues, is familiar with the political and community framework and is available. He’s also a journalist, an editor and “that’s one of the gaps we have,” she said, adding Cooper is not a journalist, but a communications expert in public relations and he has a lot on his plate.

“We needed some help,” she said.

MacDonald was the managing editor of the Daily News when a controversial letter about First Nations people was published. Samra said it’s not her role as the city manager to comment on something from the past.

“What I am focusing on, my decision to hire a consultant, was for the communication strategy for the city and it’s a resource that’s available for my staff and for council if they want media training.”

The job was not put out to tender. Any contract below $25,000 can be directly awarded by the relevant manager, according to Victor Mema, the city’s director of finance.

news@nanaimobulletin.com

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