Half Moon Bay leaders hired a top San Francisco public relations firm last week to handle outreach for the city, although questions have been raised about the cost and overall goal of the new position.
The new community-outreach coordinator would be responsible for finding new ways to draw positive attention to the city, giving talking points to staff and generating press releases and a community newsletter. One speaker at a council meeting last week likened the new job to being the city’s “spin doctor.”
Council members explained they wanted a fresh way to let local residents know what their local government is doing, said Mayor Allan Alifano. Elected leaders had previously urged employees to put together a city newsletter, but that never materialized because staff was overworked, he said.
“All the council members felt we need to do a better job communicating with Half Moon Bay,” he said. “We wanted a vehicle to reach out to people and tell them what we’re working on … and how we’re trying to make things better.”
The city received five bids for the $60,000 contract.
A city-appointed panel selected Barbary Coast Consulting, one of the largest lobbying houses in San Francisco. Barbary Coast pegged its costs at nearly twice that of most of the rival bids, charging between $125 and $200 per hour for its employees.
City officials say cost was not a primary consideration for the panel. The interviewers instead gauged the qualifications of each firm.
Barbary Coast delivered a set of ambitious goals for the city, signaling it could rethink everything from the décor of the City Hall entrance to improving Internet search results for the town and even the attitude of individual staff members.
Barbary Coast listed several similar jobs its performed in the past for agencies such as San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco Transportation Authority, but it has no apparent experience working for a small-town government like Half Moon Bay.
The city panel included Assistant to the City Manager Katie Crowder, Charise McHugh, president and CEO of the Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of the Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau, and Redwood City Public Information Officer Malcolm Smith.
“We wanted people with expertise in information outreach and marketing,” said City Manager Laura Snideman, who assembled the panel. “We needed a diverse group of folks.”
Barbary Coast will be paid $16,000 to work for the remainder of the fiscal year. During that time, the firm anticipates it will assess the city’s portrayal in local media and begin developing a new press kit. For next year, the firm will be paid $60,000 to redesign the city’s website and develop a long-term communications plan.