Olympia City Council meets in person for the first time in 16 months

Leo Brine

After a two-week hiatus, Olympia city council met on Tuesday evening and voted to hire more communications staff in a bid to implement a city-wide communications strategy.

On July 13 at 7 p.m., for the first time in over a year, the Olympia City Council meets in person at Town Hall for its weekly meeting. Council members discussed several items, including the purchase of the burnt-out Quality Inn on Quince Street, the search for a real estate developer near the LBA Woods, and budget adjustments for the next fiscal quarter. The council also voted on adding three new full-time communications staff for the city after an analysis showed the communications department was understaffed.

In the spring, the city asked Communications Resources Northwest (CRNW) to conduct a study on Olympia’s needs. The consultants interviewed city officials, local business owners, city workers and citizens about the city’s communication strategies. Kellie Purce Braseth, director of strategic communications for the city, said: “The researchers found that… our people and our current organization were not up to the level of service we needed.

Communication has been a challenge for the town’s small communication team, which currently has only four people, including its manager, Braseth. Braseth said the consultants’ analysis found that “we need to more than double our staff” as the staff shortage has resulted in a lack of capacity and resources to meet the demands of city employees and citizens.

CRNW compared Olympia’s communications resources to those of other cities of similar size. They found that places like Boise, ID and Eugene, OR had about 8,000 citizens for each member of the communications team. In Olympia, it is about 13,000 citizens per member communication.

The three new full-time communications positions the city will create are: a Deputy Public Information Officer (PIO) to manage media calls and improve internal communications; a social media / content strategist to strengthen the city’s online presences and information dissemination capacities; and a graphic designer.

Braseth said these positions are necessary to improve internal communications between city departments and employees. “We hardly do any internal communication,” she said. The new Deputy PIO will provide a way to share the city’s messages with citizens and city employees, “and our employees can then become better ambassadors for the city,” Braseth said.

Along with the new positions, the city also approved spending of around $ 100,000 to have a crisis communications business on mandate. A business would provide communication strategies when the city is in the midst of an immediate crisis. An additional $ 200,000 would also be spent to hire photographers, videographers and writers to create content for the city.

The analysis also showed that people wanted to get news from the city through the website or on social media. So the post of social media strategist was added to meet that need, Braseth said. And the graphic designer will help with the city’s website and the creation of infographics for the city’s media.

The city would spend $ 150,000 over five months for the three positions, with funding from the 2020 general fund. Council has committed to finding a permanent source of funding for the positions in the next budget process. In total, increasing staff and hiring a crisis communications company would cost the city about $ 600,000 per year.

The city council voted unanimously to approve the new hires and the spending plan. City Councilor Jim Cooper said, “This is a necessary wave of bow that we need to get into the city right now.”

Olympia’s communications team will begin interviewing candidates for the new roles on August 16 and hopes to recruit new hires by September 1.

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