Spokane Mayor David Condon has chosen a new chief spokesman for the city.
Brian Coddington of Hill and Knowlton Strategies, a national public relations firm with offices in Spokane, is replacing Marlene Feist, who will remain at the city as the utilities communications manager, the city announced on Thursday.
The hiring is part of Condon’s revamping of the city’s communications strategy. Similar changes also are under way in the police department.
Last year, the Condon administration signed a $45,900 contract with Desautel Hege Communications to review the city’s communications efforts. Condon said the city’s interaction with citizens “is not at the level that I feel comfortable with.”
“We need a unified message amongst all of our communicators so that we can increase the communications,” Condon said.
Since becoming mayor, Condon has criticized systems in place at City Hall to make sure citizen inquiries are properly handled. He said Thursday that the change allows the city to interact more with citizens while keeping Feist’s experience to increase outreach about the city’s plans to improve sewage treatment. The city is expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the next several years on sewage upgrades in part to reduce the flow of raw sewage into the Spokane River as required by the city’s wastewater permit.
“We weren’t having communication with the public on the largest infrastructure project that this community is ever going to see and getting their input,” Condon said.
Feist announced the reorganization of city communications earlier this year. Two public information coordinators, Robyn Dunlap of the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System, and Ann Deasy, who worked for the streets and engineering departments, were laid off as part of the change.
Coddington, 39, will oversee City Cable 5 and sit on the mayor’s cabinet as the communications and marketing director. Feist said Coddington’s starting salary will be $87,900. Dunlap and Deasy each earned closer to $55,000.
Feist, 44, will continue earning $89,000 in her new job. She started work at City Hall in 1998 and was chosen to lead the communications department in 2000. She is a graduate of the University of Montana.
Coddington, a graduate of Whitworth College, has worked at Hill and Knowlton for 12 years. He previously was a reporter at The Spokesman-Review, starting full time in 1995 and leaving in 1999. His appointment needs the approval of the Spokane City Council.
The change in communications at City Hall is happening simultaneously to a similar effort in the police department by Chief Frank Straub.
Straub hired Monique Cotton, a communications consultant and former communication director for Hutton Settlement and the Inland Northwest Blood Center, to be the department’s communications director. She is earning $25 an hour and hasn’t been hired in a permanent position because it hasn’t been created by the Spokane Civil Service Commission.
Officer Jennifer DeRuwe will continue as the department’s public information officer and will focus on releasing information about police work and specific incidents while Cotton leads the department’s overall communications and marketing strategy.
“We have a great police department,” DeRuwe said. “I just think that we have a communication problem.”
Police leaders have promised to work on rebuilding trust since a federal jury in 2011 found Spokane police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. guilty of using excessive force on Spokane resident Otto Zehm, who died in police custody in 2006. Thompson was also found guilty of lying about the case.
“It’s obvious that we kind of have a PR problem,” DeRuwe said. “We need to work on rebuilding the trust in our community.”
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