The District of Saanich is following the trend taken by many of the province’s bigger municipalities by hiring a dedicated communications manager.
Over the past decade cities such as Victoria have not only created a communications director position but now have entire departments (Victoria’s recently rebranded itself as civic engagement). And yet Saanich has held out with different departments handling their own communications, until now.
“I was surprised not to see one here when I arrived [in January],” said CAO Andy Laidlaw. “We had one in [Campbell River] and they are a common role in bigger municipalities today.”
If taxpayers are wondering, the position isn’t a new one. Rather, it’s a re-calibration of the recently vacated communications co-ordinator role in Saanich’s legislative services department.
“Having seen the mayor’s rocky start to taking up the job and the way he held press conferences, this might help,” said Michael Prince, Lansdowne professor of social policy at the University of Victoria. “It’s a major city with major issues and it’s probably a good idea to have a communications person.”
The co-ordinator handled a lot of internal communications, some of which the new position will have to do as well, Laidlaw said.
One of the main reasons there hasn’t been a communications manager in Saanich to this point is former mayor Frank Leonard, who was happy acting as a front line for media calls.
However, there is a need for a communications officer to serve as an interface with the public by driving Saanich’s many programs and events to its residents, Laidlaw said.
“We want to improve our ability to communicate to residents the many programs that Saanich has.”
One example Laidlaw points to is the added public process Saanich is trying to include with budget implementation. Having someone experienced in the media and public relations role will assist with getting the message out.
“This is part of that, a first step. It will be a relatively slow growth as the [role will handle] some of the same functions, as well as updating the Saanich website.”
Saanich is also hiring a replacement for the IT communications person, who will work on an updated web presence. An improved website is expected for next summer.