Media Information Officer Position Open Again

Sandi Turner

The City of Malibu is on the hunt again for a media information officer (MIO) —  its third in less than a year — after it was revealed that Sandi Turner would be resigning from the post this week for personal reasons.

The job posting, which appears in this week’s Malibu Times, lists a salary range of $68,332-$88,831 annually, plus benefits. Applications are due no later than Friday, May 30, at 4 p.m. The Malibu City Council first established the MIO position in 2011, with the goal of getting more extensive media outreach at a lower price than paying a PR firm kept on retainer, which had been the practice at that time.

Turner, who cites “personal obligations” as her reason for vacating the office after 10 months, was first hired as a full-time employee last July and quietly became a part-time staffer in January for unspecified personal reasons.

To help in the communications department, the city said employees from various departments have been trained to post on social media pages and are delegated other miscellaneous duties. The identities of Turner’s teammates have not been made clear, although City Manager Jim Thorsen has cited a coordinated effort for the daily operations of the office.

“All the departments have people that, for example, post to Facebook or write a potential release,” said Thorsen.

While Thorsen and Turner would not specify those trained to help in the efforts, some press releases, for example, include contacts like Theresa Odello in the Parks and Recreation Department, or Brad Davis, the city’s emergency services coordinator.

Of the four city government-run Malibu facebook pages, the “City of Malibu – Government” page has the highest reach with 1,194 followers. The other three, the “City of Malibu Planning Department,” “City of Malibu Parks & Recreation Department” and “City of Malibu Environmental Sustainability” pages, average about 150 followers each. The Planning Department page was last updated in November 2013, with the other two updated a several times in April.

“We’ve got a technical person that also helps out, a student intern, a lot of people who can pull together during emergencies and events,” Thorsen added.

Much of the work completed by the MIO appears to be through teamwork, with a chain of command set up for alerts.

“If Brad [Davis] can’t [post alerts], maybe Sandi can, if Sandi can’t, there may be a third person,” said Thorsen.

Back in 2011, when the position was created, a majority of the city council justified the new job as a means of improving the city’s media presence and image. Originally, according to officials, the new position would help the council and city staff be on the same page when interacting with the numerous government and private agencies that have a stake in Malibu.

“We’re 13,000 people, but we’re subject to more jurisdictions and more controversy than almost any other city of even four or five times our size in California,” then-Mayor and current Mayor Pro Tem John Sibert said at the time.

Another council member at the time, Jefferson “Jay” Wagner, expressed more skepticism about the office since its inception in 2011.

“Generally, I think it should be a staff position, but only part-time,” said Wagner, adding, “I think we’re spending about 60,000 to 80,000 [dollars] a year for that position, but it’s a part-time job; we’ve got to start thinking that way.”

Wagner has suggested that the sitting council will “give it some scrutiny,” but in his opinion, “part-time, or an intern, a combination would probably work just as effectively.”

The first MIO, Olivia Damavandi, held the position for almost two years, from summer 2011 to March 2013.

Councilwoman Laura Rosenthal, who first floated the idea of an MIO staff member in 2011, and served on the council ad hoc committee, along with council member Lou La Monte, to determine the need for such a staffer, said on Monday the position has been a success compared to the PR firm.

“[Lou and I] had some different ideas about things, and I think it’s really evolved,” Rosenthal said of the position. “We weren’t able to push information out to people the way we can now.”

Rosenthal also cited teamwork as a reason for the success of the media information officer.

“I think a lot of the work that Sandi did was with our staff, helping them get to a certain level, about getting information out, how to present information [and] the best ways to get it received,” said Rosenthal.