Less communication, more snowclearing: Puddister

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A St. John’s councillor says he wants city services to get back to basics, starting with redeploying the city’s communications staff.

Coun. Art Puddister at Monday night’s regular council meeting said he wants the city to examine the salaries of the three main communications staff for St. John’s “with a view to taking this money and putting it towards snowclearing” with the employees put to work elsewhere in city hall.

Puddister tabled the salary ranges for the positions — a manager ($76,400-$92,831) and two officers ($57,208-$69,513 and $59,598-$72,417) — at the meeting. Afterwards, he told media he has no problem with individual personnel, but wanted to draw attention to the rapidly growing communications department.

“Why are we spending in excess of $200,000 on communications?” asked Puddister, who also criticized city policy of prohibiting media from speaking to city staff without authorization from the communications department.

“I trust our deputy city managers. They’re well-paid. They’re well-informed. They know their jobs, and I think they should be completely authorized to speak to the media at any time.”

St. John’s needs to focus on basic priorities, said Puddister.

“I think what they do now is meaningful, but in my view I’d like to see them do something which is more meaningful, and that the cash resources be allocated to the snow-clearing budget,” he said.

“I believe that we should get back to the basics, which is core services. Core services are basically snow-clearing, clean water and garbage collection, humane services.”

Coun. Dave Lane defended the communications staff, pointing out that the department does much more than serve as first point of contact for media inquiries.

“The idea is that somehow our communications department, or the personnel in the strategy and engagement department are somehow restricting communications or input from the public,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s the case. And even if that was an issue that we’re talking about, that’s only a small portion of what the communications people do. So I think we have to very careful in deciding whether or not to keep or cut.”

Communications staff are responsible for informing people of snowclearing schedules, garbage pickup and special events.

“Look at the things the strategy and engagement department do for us. They co-ordinate the Municipal Plan release and the consultations surrounding all of that. Affordable and attainable housing strategies. Rennie’s River flood strategy. Convention Centre marketing. Snow-clearing study. Regional mobility plan. … It goes on and on. This is a fairly crucial department that does their job so well, we probably don’t even realize they’re there.”

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

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  • Jay
    April 16, 2014 - 08:17

    Puddester is merely questioning how priorities are set at City Hall, and it's about time. St. John's is not a large municipality, and it doesn't need the bureaucracy which it has hired. It's time to get back to the basics like snow clearing, garbage collection, and road maintenance. The others seem to have lost all respect for the taxpayers. When you talk to somebody at City Hall, they treat you like the enemy.

  • Maggy Carter
    April 15, 2014 - 11:04

    Shame Puddister didn't run for mayor. Since O'Keefe became mayor, St. John's has been afflicted with municipal creep. Their own trucks turned into wrecking balls on icy unplowed hills and seniors with their groceries scrambling over snow-banked sidewalks while O'Keefe gets excited about his year-round skating rinks, his studies on annexing Mount Pearl, and his city art collection. And now to ensure councillors and staff stay on message, their public utterances have to be screened by a slew of over-paid pimpled face 'communicators'. 'Comms', Lesley calls them, using the vernacular of her communications fraternity. (You'd think people whose expertise is words would be able to choose ones that better hide their profession.) And now O'Keefe wants to spend another million to expropriate a property to accommodate this type of unnecessary growth in staff. We've come down with a bad case of city hall sprawl. I'm looking at some of these young councillors who support this nonsense like Lane, and I'm thinking we're already brewing a new breed of secretive, self-important, control freaks who spend the taxpayer's money like they do their own on George Street on a Friday night. Does anyone look ahead and think what's going to happen when these sky-high real estate prices start to drop? Even without raising the mill rate, city hall has been awash in cash from these inflated home valuations that are pushing our cost of living through the roof. Look out when that safety net starts to rot. Why can't we have governments that are willing to live within our means, and still do a good job of the simple things we expect of them?

    • Guy Incognito
      April 15, 2014 - 11:42

      Exactly....we have an outdoor ice loop, a pretty harbor fence, gazebos,"bike lanes", $200,000 communicators, and a stop on the disney cruise, but we can't have clear streets and sidewalks in the winter. Not to mention the potholes and the garbage everywhere. Our city is filthy. Parking problems everywhere. Forget about the cruise ships and other frivolities Doc. You have way more important problems you should be addressing. Or step aside and let someone else get do it....

  • Joe
    April 15, 2014 - 10:13

    It seems like Art might be a watchdog. Thats a good thing. Dennis O'Keefe seems a bit cocky these days. ( I know this is not related to the article above.)

  • guy incognito
    April 15, 2014 - 09:38

    Finally someone at city hall that has a good idea. "Snow Bank" O'Keefe's days of being above questioning are over.

  • Lesley
    April 15, 2014 - 08:48

    I gotta say, Art Puddister is comparing apples to oranges here. Here's taking two issues and blending them together when they couldn't be more different. To me, it sounds like Art has a grudge in that department. Dave Lane is right. Look at ANY large municipal government in Canada; there's comms people there. Look at ANY large organization with over 1000+ employees; there's comms people there. It's standard practice. These folks were most likely working at the city long before Art was around. It's unfortunate they're being scapegoated for the sake of his grandstanding on snow clearing. Dave Lane is on the money with this one. He appears the most reasonable of the new lot. I hope other councillors listen to him.

    • Overburdened taxpayer
      April 15, 2014 - 10:18

      The commonality of your 'apples to oranges' statement is that both draw from a limited pool of financial resources. Something else every other 'large' municipality in Canada has - sidewalks that are fit to walk on in the winter time. A purpose specific communications department is not a necessity and does little for those that fund it. It's an extra, and and expensive one that is simply not necessary.

  • anna
    April 14, 2014 - 23:20

    This is why I voted for art puddister

  • AKavanagh
    April 14, 2014 - 22:40

    About time