PAWTUCKET — “What we've got here is failure to communicate.” That movie line from “Cool Hand Luke” would seem to apply to an increased effort on the part of the city administration to promote Pawtucket and a new job it wants to create that would handle this in a more tech-savvy way.
At Wednesday's City Council meeting, the council was asked to consider an ordinance to create a pay plan for a position called a “community/business communications liaison” for the Department of Planning and Redevelopment. The requested salary for the unclassified, non-union position is $53,200-$58,800 per year.
Among the primary duties for the position are to develop a directed marketing plan to highlight Pawtucket, and the implementation of a web-based and social media strategy to promote the city's strengths. The job also calls for a reworking of the city's web page to make it more effective and easier to navigate and the development of a calendar and electronic newsletter designed to highlight Pawtucket entertainment venues, cultural and sporting events, and neighborhood projects.
The City Council's Finance Committee had recommended denial of the position, and the City Council, after some discussion, ended up sending it back to the Finance Committee for further analysis.
According to Council President David Moran, the council had numerous questions about the new position and wanted more information about how it differs from another Planning Department job: the Economic and Cultural Affairs Officer.
On the topic of economic development in general, the council further asked the administration to provide an analysis of what has been done in the past 26 months to bring new businesses into the city, a tally of how many businesses have opened up and expanded, and a report of which ones have closed.
According to Councilor and FinCom Chairman John Barry, two other FinComm members, Councilors Mark Wildenhain and Larry Tetreault, had felt the salary for the new job was too high and that the duties could likely be handled by a recent college graduate at a much lower pay level.
In the administration's proposal, the rationale given for the new job is that Pawtucket “is simply not marketing itself well” to the broad outside community, nor to its own residents who are often unaware of what the city has to offer. The proposal states that on any given weekend there is a lot happening in Pawtucket, but very little is communicated.
It is noted that this problem is particularly apparent with the under-40 age group, which gets its information on-line from FaceBook and other social media outlets rather than the newspaper. A lack of consistency in the look and feel of the city's website and some frustration involved with the available on-line forms and applications were also listed as issues needing attention.
Lastly, the job description cites the need for a “go to” person to be consistently promoting Pawtucket to the broader community, particularly when it comes to new initiatives. Whether a new retail business is locating here, promoting the city as a soon-to-be National Park destination, or advertising a “dine Pawtucket” week as seen in other communities, there is a need for aggressive marketing and messaging, the proposal states. “The investment in this position has enormous potential to pay dividends in terms of increased business and investment in our community,” the proposal adds.
Planning Director Barney Heath categorized the new position as being one of improving communications, public relations and marketing of the city, particularly among the under-40 demographic. A primary function would be to enhance and embrace the web-based communication and contacts, particularly through social media such as FaceBook, Twitter and other popular on-line sites.
Heath said the job could be funded through a savings in the current year's budget that was realized by several positions being left vacant for a time. He said that a chief of project development that went vacant for six months before being filled saved $38,246 and an assistant planning director left unoccupied for four months saved $44,221, while a two-month planning director vacancy saved $6,356, resulting in a net savings of $88,823.
By comparison, he said that personnel requests for the Department of Planning and Redevelopment in the current fiscal year's budget (that ends on June 30, 2013) totals $77,594. This includes a request to fill a position of secretary—Trust and Agency at $33,372, a job reclassification that would cost $1,622; and assumes six months of the salary of the new community/business communications liaison at $42,600.
Moran told The Times that he and the rest of the council are fully supportive of economic development, but said that he and several of the other councilors question how this position differs from the Economic and Cultural Affairs Officer position (currently held by Herb Weiss). Listed among the existing duties for this position is “Assist in directing all city economic development efforts including responding to new or potential relocating businesses and existing business inquiries.”
In a broader sense, Moran said he was struck by another listed duty that calls for the Economic and Cultural Affairs Director to “prepare and carry out an economic development strategic plan to retain and expand existing businesses as well as attract businesses to Pawtucket.”
“What is this economic strategic plan they are referring to?” asked Moran. “Since this administration has been in office for 26 months, I'm wondering...has this plan been successful? What businesses have we attracted or have expanded? Or what have we lost?” He said the council's request is nothing personal against Weiss, but is simply to find out what the person there now is doing as far as this economic strategic development plan. “That's why we want a response by the next meeting.”
Moran added that the council had previously raised questions about last year's “special economic projects development” position that was held by Richard Kazarian, and complained that it took several months to get a response from the administration. “That's the hot-button topic—bringing in new businesses. That's why we want to hear more about what this economic strategy plan is,” the council president said.