ENCINITAS — Encinitas’ communications director resigned this week, citing employment opportunities and family obligations.
Marlena Medford, who held the position that had been a point of controversy with a number of local activists questioning its need, said Wednesday that she had submitted her letter of resignation on Monday.
Medford, who was hired in December 2013 by former City Manager Gus Vina, served as the city’s spokeswoman, point of contact for the media and spearheaded a number of the city’s social media and public outreach initiatives.
“I resigned because I wanted to pursue the opportunity to do communications consulting, something that I have always wanted to do,” Medford said. “It wasn’t an easy decision, but I feel it will allow me to pursue my long-time career goal and provides me with some flexibility as well. I am a working mom with a 2-year-old daughter, and pursuing something that I am passionate about that provides me with that flexibility is something I really desire.”
During her stint with the city, Medford won two statewide awards from the California Association of Public Information Officials, one for the citywide communications plan she helped develop and the public outreach efforts for the city’s housing element.
She also boosted the city’s presence on social media, creating a Facebook page that now has 10,000 followers, and managing the city’s official Twitter and Instagram handles.
Medford also collaborated with the city’s information technology department to launch several applications aimed at increasing transparency in city hall, including a city finance tracker, a tree tracker and an online pavement profile that gives users information about the state of the pavement of a local street.
“I am really proud of all of our accomplishments,” Medford said.
Vina created the communications director to improve interactions with the public, but the move was criticized by a number of local activists, who said the position was unnecessary and questioned if the city could afford it.
“Mr. Vina told the Council he needs the communication specialist to improve interaction with the public, but the reality is the luxury hire will create a new layer of bureaucracy and further remove the council from the people they serve,” wrote local activist Andrew Audet, a frequent critic of the city’s spending, in a July 2013 column in The Coast News.
The same critics again began to publicly criticize the position after the city’s rollout of its online civic engagement platform, e-Town Hall, was met with mixed reviews. The city canceled the contract with the provider, Peak Democracy, after the council expressed disappointment with the results of the housing element public outreach, which was powered by e-Town Hall.
Medford said despite the cancellation, the city learned valuable lessons from the experience
“I think that there was a learning curve for us, and there were some hiccups along the way,” Medford said. “But I think the spirit of why we rolled out the tools is very much needed in the community.
“I strongly believe the public needs and deserves a meaningful and efficient way to engage with the city that will supplement the traditional means,” she said.
Medford says she hopes the next city manager will see the value in the position and maintain it.
“I think it helps to make sure the public is getting access to information and is being provided a medley of tools to do so, and secondly, I think interfacing with the media is a critical part of our civic engagement process,” she said. “Having a point person to interface with professional reporters is an absolute must.
“For a number of reasons, I feel there is a lot of value in the position,” Medford said.
Medford, who lives in Encinitas with her husband and daughter, said she looks forward to staying engaged in city topics and issues as a resident.
“I also have gained such a deep appreciation for how hard city staff work,” she said. “They are really dedicated of what they do.”