Sunday, April 27, 2008

City Communications Need More Work

After the shock of seeing some long-awaited changes on the city’s web site, reality has set in and generated some questions.

First of all, inquiring minds want to know exactly how the “shared services” agreement with the school district is working. Is it an informal, ad-hoc thing or are the hours and fees spelled out and documented? And how can just one person do all that work? Are there helpers?

On closer observation, the material on the web site has been enhanced with meeting dates for the City Council, Planning Board and Zoning Board, but all three are on a City Council link, even though the land use boards are free-standing entities separate from the governing body.

The mayor’s photo has finally been cropped but there is still no bio with her information. Martin Hellwig is still pictured in a T-shirt and Jennifer Wenson Maier in a tank top. There is no photo of the third department head, Douglas Peck.

I’m sure the Needler in the Haystack will do his own analysis of the utility (or lack thereof) of the upgraded city web site, and I’m equally sure this is not the finished product. But readers are right to inquire about the cost and how much other money is being thrown at communication functions of the city. Another “shared services” deal will bring on PMUA resources to augment the city’s PR efforts, and a consultant was hired months ago to help shape up Channel 74.

Public relations and communications are broad headings that assume those hired have a spectrum of skills, ranging from being able to write proper press releases to developing mailing pieces or handouts with photos, graphics and engaging text. Residents nowadays expect web sites with downloadable forms for common needs such as permits, and consistent information for various city departments in order to better understand the workings of government. The city’s local origination cable channel also needs people with specific expertise to make it effective.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs has asked for an expansion of the communications staff. Consultants have been hired and partnerships formed with other official entities. Still, not all bases are being covered adequately. Meanwhile, one member of the city team is also operating his own media enterprises and takes photos at weddings conducted in City Hall.

Maybe the management needs to decide its goals and priorities for communications and public relations and to make sure the right team with the needed skills is in place. More than half the sand has run out of this administration’s hourglass. It’s time to take stock and shape up for the remainder of its term.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...


You wrote, "Meanwhile, one member of the city team is also operating his own media enterprises and takes photos at weddings conducted in City Hall."

You are referring to Larry Rice, who has no true professional background in media or public relations. He produces a rag that somehow always prominently features the mayor and is otherwise filled with recycled ads and poorly written "articles."

After his clear conflict of interest was revealed by the Needler, he put his newspaper in the name of a family member. He should be FIRED immediately for running his wedding photo business out of city hall and the entire communications budget and expenses and side jobs and "no shows" should be investigated by the city council.

The experience of the new consultant seems to consist of a low-budget "black ninja" movie that he produced some years back. Where is the expertise in public access media management? This is appalling. It is embarrassing to have a team that doesn't seem to have mastered basic English composition skills. Why doesn't the city council investigate this waste of our taxpayer budget?

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To leave no stone unturned, please note that Chris Payne's assistant is the wife of Councilman Don Davis and she already earns about $80,000 dollars a year. Payne earns more than that. What was the $125K for?

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a lot of questions about this web site, mostly having to do with cost. Many of the other municipalities in the state have better websites with more functionality that cost much less.

1. When did the RFP go out to possible vendors to bid for this website? There was no RFP listed on the city's prior website.Where was the RFP posted?

2. What was the bidding process? I know many web developers and there are many already here in Plainfield. None of them were able to submit bids because they never saw an RFP.

3. How many bids were received and where in the bidding process did the vendor who received the bid come in?

4. How much did the website cost to produce and where is the paperwork to show the expense breakdown in terms of hours?

5. What were the project specs?

6. What are the projections for the website's future ability to function as technology capabilities increase?

7. What specific technological experience was brought to bear by the media/communications and technology staff already employed by the Robinson-Briggs administration and by the consultants who were paid $125,000 to do this work?

8. On what server is the site hosted and what about future expansion and functionality?

9. What did the media and communication employees do for the salaries they are paid and when did they do it?

10. When can Plainfield residents receive information on how this was done, or do we need to file an OPRA request?

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

THey probably can't write basic English compositions because they went to high school in Plainfield.

7:56 PM  

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