By ROBIN SHANNON
Published/Last Modified on Saturday, January 28, 2012
In an effort to strengthen the link between constituents with questions and administrators with answers, the St. John the Baptist Parish Council on Tuesday approved creation of a parish government department of communications, eliminating the need for a temporary assistant to relay information to the public.
Parish President Natalie Robottom said she proposed the ordinance to create the department because of a growing need to have someone within her administration that could directly interact with the public, businesses, industry, civic groups and other entities on a daily basis. She said the department would allow the parish to have a permanent communications director as opposed to a temporary “assistant to the parish president,” which is what is currently in place.
During a lengthy discussion regarding the ordinance, some council members expressed concerns about creating a new department. A motion to table the ordinance failed to get enough votes. Those concerns were satisfied, however, and the ordinance was approved unanimously. The council also approved the immediate appointment of Paige Braud as Communications Director. Braud is the current parish public information officer.
Councilwoman Cheryl Millet said her reservations about creating the position was out of concern for the administration becoming too “top heavy” by adding another director to the mix.
“It takes six council members to remove a director,” Millet said. “The position is something that is great to have, but I’m against creating another department.”
Robottom said creation of the department comes with no change in staff, no additional budget, and no change in Braud’s salary, which is currently $60,000.
“Our salary scale is based on qualifications and what that person brings to the table,” Robottom said. “Some of the new directors that have been appointed have a decreased salary from what some of their predecessors were getting.”
Robottom went on to say that the public information officer position is a full time job that requires working nights, weekends and some holidays, while coordinating events within the parish. She said there are now also increased expectations regarding alerting residents through multiple communication channels in the event of a disaster or emergency and added that Braud has done a good job in that respect.
“When the parish charter was created in 1985, there was no email, texting, Facebook, Twitter, or robo-calls” Robottom said. “We have all of these ways of communicating to the public and we want to make sure we are using all of our avenues when it comes to reaching the public.”
Robottom also said creation of the department would allow for the movement of some existing employees with ties to communication. She said the parish receptionist, who currently reports to the finance director, will now report to Braud. She also talked of eventually adding a civil service position for constituent services, as well as a system to track calls to the parish from residents to ensure they field adequate response.
“There is no way of tracking where calls are directed or the results of those calls,” Robottom said. “I want to create a protocol for recording and tracking them through to completion.”