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County finalizes information position

by Brian Walker; Staff Writer
| August 25, 2018 1:00 AM

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Plouffe

COEUR d'ALENE — Kootenai County's communications initiative has been buttoned up.

The commissioners' office on Friday released final details of its internal restructure aimed at improving transparency and release of information, internally and externally.

The shuffle includes naming Nancy Jones, who has been the office's administrative supervisor for nearly five years, as communications manager. She also previously worked in three positions in the Clerk's Office.

"The favorite part of my job over the past five years has been communicating with our employees and community partners and identifying we have a need for improved communications," Jones said.

"Right now our primary communication with employees is through a quarterly newsletter and that is not sufficient. We had a public hearing in March (on building codes) with more than 400 people attending and I was surprised that the majority of our employees did not know we were live streaming the event."

The announcement ends a flurry of activity in recent weeks. It ranged from commissioners' frustrations over the lack of information released by other agencies on a series of fires near the county-owned airport, to the original person accepting the information job before rescinding his decision before he even started, to multiple reports and opinions on the subject in The Press.

"The overriding thinking is transparency," Commissioner Chris Fillios said Friday, referring to the communications need. "People speculate or have their own notions on how we're organized. Frankly, that is for us to fix."

The restructure was unanimously approved by the three commissioners. It takes effect Sept. 4.

Fillios said Jones' primary responsibilities will be releasing information through the media and social media, internal communications and assisting with televising commissioner meetings in the future.

Jones has been a Kootenai County resident since 2001 and received an associate's degree from North Idaho College. She serves as the District 1 representative for the Idaho Public Risk Management Association and is pursuing a certification in public management.

Jones said the county plans to launch a new website on Sept. 6 and she plans to improve the county's communication through social media.

"This position allows us to streamline communication between the public and the commissioners but not get in the way of it," she said. "It is also meant to allow us to be more proactive instead of reactive."

Leighanna Keiser, an accountant overseeing the county's fixed assets and a county employee since 2014, will assume Jones' job as the administrative supervisor in the Commissioners' Office. Keiser has lived here for the past 23 years and has a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Colorado.

Other recent additions to the commissioners' staff include Cheryl Broadway, front desk coordinator, and Nanci Plouffe, who accepted the new job of senior business analyst. Broadway has more than 25 years of administrative and managerial experience. Plouffe served as a law enforcement and business analyst for nearly 20 years.

Fillios said the restructure, with the communications function, will cost an additional $2,000.

"We thought that bringing Leighanna to the same pay grade as Nancy was the appropriate thing to do since she'll be assuming Nancy's job," Fillios said.

Sam Taylor, the first person chosen for the information job after he was runner-up to Plouffe for the senior business analyst position, said he took into consideration the political climate at the county when he rescinded his decision and accepted a private job in Montana instead.

Taylor, Coeur d'Alene's former deputy city administrator, told The Press that based on conversations with county officials he had job security concerns at the entity with two new commissioners coming on board in January.

Fillios said the decision to move ahead with the communications initiative now rather than wait until the two new commissioners take office was made because the need is now.

"The need is already long overdue," he said. "It was heightened most recently with the incident (involving spot fires caused by an aircraft) at the airport and recent articles in the newspaper. That is why we need to act on this function."

Fillios said the title of communications manager, rather than public information officer, is being used in the restructure.

"This is someone who will be performing a communications function on behalf of the (Board of County Commissioners)," Fillios said. "If we had a PIO, then theoretically all the communication outside the county would flow through that individual. Because we have nine elected officials, we can't compel them to use a single individual (for information dissemination).

"We are willing to share the service with the other elected officials, but it's at their discretion."

The Sheriff's Office has its own staffer who releases public information.

Fillios said commissioners decided to fill the communications need internally rather than seek external candidates to save money and because a separate position was not budgeted.

"We also wanted someone who’s knowledgeable about the various functions of the county," he said. "Nancy speaks well and knows the county."