Community Commentary

Why the city should not hire a ‘PR Specialist’

At a time when Encinitas can least afford it, City Manager Gus Vina has asked the council to approve hiring what I call a public relations person for an estimated salary of $135,000. 

It’s the wrong hire at the wrong time, and one the Council should avoid.

Mr. Vina proposed the expensive hire at a council meeting recommending he be allowed to hire what he calls a communication specialist. Multiple residents spoke in opposition, pointing out that Encinitas faces a number of pressing financial concerns and that taxpayer money should not be wasted on unnecessary overhead. They have a point.

At this year’s budget meeting I learned city debt service under Mr. Vina’s stewardship has increased by approximately $700,000 a year and that the city will soon have an increased payment to Calpers near $2 million annually.

On top of this the city has unfunded pension liabilities and is woefully behind in road maintenance. Add to this, that to build the Hall Park, Mr. Vina recommended, and the council approved, raiding 15 fully funded capital projects of some $7 million, leaving important projects throughout the city unfunded.

Next, consider the council recently discussed exploring ways to increase fees on residents and youth sports. Given this story it’s understandable why the city manager might look to hire a public relations specialist. It also becomes clear to me the council should instead use the money to pay down debt or improve services.

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.

The position sounds like something a big city would have, not a small town with a council claiming to want public input.

In Encinitas Mr. Vina recently hired four new directors to replace outgoing directors, forming what he is calling his “cabinet” and they include a new parks director, planning director, human resources director and finance director. It seems to me these new department leaders should be capable of directly dealing with the public.

In addition to existing debt and unfunded obligations the city has incurred a number of unexpected costs in the last few weeks. A sinkhole will need to be repaired and there is an unexpected termite treatment at the recently built Encinitas 5 Fire House station. Certainly $135,000 might go a long way to paying these or other unplanned expenses.

In her newsletter last week Mayor Teresa Barth said the city is performing an appraisal of the Pacific View site and she asked residents to share any suggestions on how to finance a purchase. Saying no to hiring an unneeded PR specialist and saving the $135,000 would be a good place to start. I hope she and the council get the message.

Andrew Audet is an Encinitas resident.