This story originally appeared in Tuesday’s print edition of the Daily Post. Most of the local news stories the Post prints never appear online. The only way to get that news is to pick up a copy of the Post every morning an 1,000 Mid-Peninsula locations.
BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
The city of Los Altos, where both city employees and elected officials have been told not to speak to the media on certain subjects, is now searching for a Public Information Officer, or PIO, to speak for the city government at a salary up to $145,832 a year.
While larger cities such as Palo Alto have PIOs, smaller cities the size of Los Altos generally don’t. “You assume there will be more of a personal touch (in small cities),” said Richard Craig, a professor at San Jose State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
The bid to hire a media relations official for the city manager’s office comes after city workers and elected officials have repeatedly been told not to talk to the media.
Last December, Community Development Manager Jon Biggs sent an email to his employees telling them that they shouldn’t say anything to the public or press about the DUI arrest of Planning Commission Chairman Alex Samek, who was stopped by the CHP after his Tesla traveled down Highway 101 in autopilot while he was passed out.
Officials told not to talk
Rachel Shaw, a consultant hired by the city over the summer to help sort out disability issues involving council members, sent a memo to council members instructing them not to talk to the press. The memo states that free speech does not include disclosing private information about someone else’s “protected class,” including disability. Releasing such information could bring fines of $1,000 or $2,500, the memo warns.
Current and previous elected officials have criticized the Post’s coverage of City Manager Chris Jordan after the newspaper reported that he was paid to leave his previous job in Oregon.
In September, a group of former mayors accused council members of airing their problems with each other and Jordan in the press and told the council members that they should keep their complaints private.
Which cities have PIOs?
Palo Alto, which has a population over 67,000, has a spokeswoman. Menlo Park, with a population of 34,000, and Belmont, with a population of 27,000, don’t have professional public relations officials.
Los Altos has a population of about 30,000.
Craig said that whether a PIO is good or bad for the public’s access to information can depend on who is hired. Sometimes PIOs are hired to make things more efficient, he said. Other times they are hired to stand in the way of the press and wall off a city’s dirty laundry.
Los Altos previously had a “public information coordinator,” Erica Ray, who made $137,517 with benefits. She managed the city’s website and social media pages and did community outreach about city projects, according to her LinkedIn Page.
Ray left the city in October. Resident Pat Marriott said Ray did a good job keeping up the city’s website and responding to emails.
The ad for a new media officer says the salary is between $120,000 to $145,000. The job description says the new hire will have to build positive relationships with the media and respond to major city incidents.
Mayor Lynette Lee Eng said she did not know the city was looking for a new spokesperson. She said an ad had been posted after Ray left, but was taken down before anyone was hired.