After weeks of debate, the Jefferson City Council voted 3-2 Feb. 10 to create a part-time city communications position to be filled by a subcontractor. The council voted to allot $12,000 for the remainder of the year to the communications position.
The debate over the position was at times contentious, including back-and-forth bickering between city manager Priscilla Murphy and some council members over the idea.
Murphy generally opposed the move, saying that she and department heads would still have to gather the info to provide to a communications person. She said that providing such information could be done internally with existing staff.
"If my staff doesn't provide this information to the contractor, you won't get it either," Murphy said at one point.
Council member Mark Mobley made the motion to create the position, saying that he thought the existing staff simply didn't have time to keep the city's website and social media efforts up-to-date.
"I think the staff is busy with other things," Mobley said. "What I want is somebody that's their job to make sure communications happens because we're in a communications age and I'm a big fan, a big fan, of the public knowing what we're doing."
But Muphy pushed back, saying that the council had never had a vote giving her direction about what it wants city hall to communicate.
"You're saying what you want," she replied to Mobley. "I've had the mayor say what he wants, I've had every one of you tell me what you want, you want, you want, but I've not had one time... where the council said, 'I want this' and vote on it... you didn't give my staff a chance, you're just going to vote for someone from the outside to do it, but my staff still has to provide this information.... this person will not be effective at all without my staff providing information."
Council member Jon Howell said he "reluctantly" supported the motion to create the position.
"I find this very unfortunate to see staff and city hall leadership arguing back and forth," Howell said. "... but it's time to see a city that communicates at a higher level. I believe, even though it's against staff objection, at this moment you will see that having a layer where we can filter information out to the public will be a good thing. I do this reluctantly — this should be something we should do internally and I'm struggling with it that we can't. In the long I think staff will see this as a good thing."
Howell, Mobley and councilman Clint Roberts voted in favor of the motion while councilmen Malcolm Gramley and Steve Kinney voted against it.