(April 18, 2014) City leaders’ apparent acrimony toward the Ocean City Beach Patrol’s public relations function reached some level of compromise last week, as the council voted to cut the allocation for the position from $8,800 to an even $5,000, rather than eliminate the position completely.
“I think we need to continue to work toward consolidating our public information,” said Councilman Joe Mitrecic. “A lot of times this is done during times of duress and we need to have one position.”
The move is part of the city’s campaign to create a “one voice” public relations approach, with all responses and outreach coming through the office of Communications Manager Jessica Waters.
Currently, however, the OCBP and the Ocean City Police Department maintain independent Public Information Officers to conduct public safety outreach and internal publicity.
During the department’s budget review two weeks ago, OCBP Capt. Butch Arbin attempted to make that justification of his department’s PIO, Kristin Joson. But City Manager David Recor said Arbin’s portrayal of Joson’s work was “not completely accurate” and that the OCBP PIO function could and should be subsumed by Waters’ office.
“The Communications Manager has confirmed that she does have the ability to absorb that informational responsibility,” Recor said this week.
However, he acknowledged that the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, which oversees the OCBP, “would like to advocate for the position.”
“My only request was to continue to fund the position and continue to evaluate the position…and help transition those duties this summer,” said interim Recreation and Parks Director Susan Petito. “But I understand the position of the council and will certainly comply with what you decide.”
Joson’s major responsibility is the creation and placement of OCBP safety information in local and regional publications – including a column that appears in this paper during the summer season – as well as providing OCBP materials to area businesses for visitor’s guides, calendars and other promotional material.
“What that position does is assist in public outreach and education that is really important for the beach patrol, and reduces the number of incidents we have on the beach,” Petito said. “There are things specific to the beach patrol that you kind of need to know on the spot in order to do that.”
Nevertheless, the council voted to cut funding for the position in the 2014-2015 fiscal year budget, “with the goal that we eliminate the position in the 2016 budget,” Council Secretary Mary Knight said.
“I do believe that some of the responsibilities should be shifted to Jessica and reduce the part-time funding as a result,” said Mayor Rick Meehan. “It’s up to the Director [Petito] and the Captain [Arbin] to make that work as you go through the transition knowing the remainder of that funding goes out in coming years.”
However, the major criticism levied against the OCBP last Thursday was the length of its internal newsletter.
“In 2014, nobody reads 24 pages,” Knight said. “I don’t mean to be snippy, but they don’t…it’s antiquated.”
The OCBP publishes a spring and fall newsletter, which is mailed out to current and former patrol members. The newsletter contains articles on best practices for guard, written by OCBP employees and assembled by Joson.
“If it’s not online or on their tablet or computer, they don’t read it,” Meehan said.
Recor’s draft budget for 2014-2015 contains an additional $4,500 to print a fall newsletter for distribution to property owners, along with the town’s annual financial report, an addition made at the request of Councilman Dennis Dare, who said many of his constituents in the Caine Woods area preferred to have a printed newsletter rather than reading it on the city’s webpage.
The only member of council to vote against the cut was Mitrecic, who said he would’ve preferred to see the position gone entirely this year. He noted that half of Joson’s hours are logged in the off-season, more than those of the OCBP’s other two part-time office staff.
“I’m sorry, but I think it’s important,” Mitrecic said. “If they want to make a case for another office associate [but not a PIO], so be it.”