(April 11, 2014) Recent budget hearings have indicated a desire for the city to eliminate or consolidate department-level public relations functions, and move toward what is being termed a “one-voice” approach for the entire town.
Councilman Joe Mitrecic questioned line items in both the Ocean City Police Department and Ocean City Beach Patrol budgets that included seasonal Public Information Officer positions.
“I thought the town was moving toward a ‘one voice’ public information-type setup,” Mitrecic said. “I just don’t think we need separate public information coordinators for every different division.”
In both cases, the departments defended their allocations by arguing that the summertime PIOs performed more specialized, active outreach that could not be done by other communications staff.
“His responsibilities include operational capacities,” OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro said of retired officer Mike Levy, who will be returning this summer as a reserve officer to teach classes on counterfeit IDs as part of the department’s RAAM (reducing the availability of alcohol to minors) program. Levy also coordinates outreach and education for foreign student workers, among other functions.
“There are functions the reserve PIO will have to perform that the civilian PIO is not able to perform,” Buzzuro said. The department’s current PIO, Lindsay O’Neal, is not a sworn officer.
Similarly, OCBP Captain Butch Arbin said the beach patrol’s part-time PIO, Kristin Joson, is responsible for proactive dissemination of water safety and rescue information. This would be beyond the scope of the town’s regular Communications Manager, Jessica Waters, whom Mitrecic had suggested could assume the OCBP’s communications functions.
“This is something [Waters] could not do without Kristin’s help,” Arbin said. “If it’s a major event, there will be one voice, without question. But, for example, if you open up any of the papers, there’s an article in there about beach safety. Jessica could not do those on her own because she does not have our expertise.”
“All the books in hotels, magazines, visitors guides, those all have things in there about the beach patrol and that goes through our office because of our knowledge.”
Although Buzzuro’s justification was met with limited resistance, City Manager David Recor openly challenged Arbin’s interpretation.
“That is not entirely accurate,” Recor told Arbin. “There are some things the PIO is responsible for that may require a learning curve, but Jessica is willing and able to take on those responsibilities…I’m not sure how there was a takeaway otherwise.”
Counter-intuitively, the city would have less of a financial incentive to eliminate the OCBP position than the OCPD’s. Joson’s pay is graded at $12.80 per hour, and budgeted at $8,800 per year.
Conversely, reserve officers receive $21.99 per hour, and the OCPD’s five returnees are budgeted at $117,000 as a combined line item.
“I personally feel we need to move toward a centralized information person,” Mitrecic said. “That way, we have one person out there, one stance. If there’s an issue, the media knows where to go and everyone knows who they have to speak to.”
“It is a viable alternative path to take,” Recor said.
“It’s something we have to look at,” Mitrecic said. “It is $8,800 dollars.”