At a recent work session, the Town Manager Roger Stancil and Executive Director Mary Jane Nirdlinger said the Town lacked sufficient staff resources to handle all the priorities the Council had identified.
This suggests that town staff resources perhaps need to be reallocated in order to achieve the goals that our elected officials have set.
Beginning in 2009, under Stancil’s leadership and with encouragement from elected officials, the Town government began to shift resources toward public relations and the external communications department. Citizens active in the negotiations concerning the future of UNC’s Horace Williams airport property had petitioned the Town Council for more citizen engagement. In response, the Manager hired a Communications Director and subsequently additional communications staff.
The expansion of the Town’s communications staff, however, has not led to more meaningful citizen engagement in town planning processes. For example, in the Ephesus-Fordham and Obey Creek planning processes, communication too often took the form of mere promotion or public relations, with staff resources used not to elicit citizen input but, rather, simply to inform the public about the town’s plans and portray them in a positive light. This trend toward devoting staff resources to creation of newsletters, reports, and posts to online media such as Facebook,and Twitter has continued and expanded in recent years.
During the March 21st Town Council budget work session, David Schwartz presented data showing how, between 2004-2014, the percentage of the town budget allocated to the Town Manger’s office—which includes the Communications Department — increased while the percentage allocated to core functions such as public safety, building inspections, and public works has decreased (see slide above).
Over the period in question, 2004-2014, the total General Fund budget increased from $42.7 million to $54.7 million, an increase of 28%. Over the same period, the Town Manager’s budget line, which includes the Communications and Public Affairs Dept., increased from $1.06 million to $2.4 million, an increase of 125%
The Town’s expanded Communications Dept. has been recognized for the high quality of its work (click here for list of most recent awards). However, at a time when we are facing multimillion-dollar annual revenue shortfalls, is this a wise way to spend our tax money?