Explain need for PIO
In the March 20 edition of The Cambrian, Tom Cochrun, in a Viewpoint, criticized Cambria Community Services District for approving a contract with someone to be a public information officer. One letter to the editor in the March 27 edition supported Cochrun's position; two opposed it.
Interestingly, another letter to the editor was by the public information officer himself (Tom Gray), presenting his position on feasible water supply. Was he speaking just for himself, or is this his public information officer inaugural? CCSD has not yet acknowledged his appointment as public information officer on its website.
We know that Gray's contract is for a maximum of $10,000 at his rate of $100 per hour. That means that his contract is for 100 hours of service.
My guess is that he spent at least one hour on his letter. Are we ratepayers comfortable with paying Gray at least $100 for this letter to the editor? Did he also charge for his meetings with CCSD to prepare the letter? If so, the cost to us would be more.
What happens when the contract reaches the $10,000 maximum? Will Gray get a new contract without competitive bid? What are the contract thresholds for requiring competitive bids? Why didn’t CCSD seek competitive bids in the first place?
This public information contract may be worthy. CCSD directors and staff apparently believe that they need professional help to communicate on their behalf with us ratepayers because they don't have the time, skills, or interest to do so. Tom Gray may be the best person to perform this function.
Still, CCSD needs to tell us why it needs a public information officer.
PIO is needed
As I reread Mr. Cochrun’s Viewpoint piece (March 20), I am perplexed. Having slogged through the barrage of epithets that pepper his article — spokes-puppet, flack catcher, weasel, hired mouth, hired mouthpiece, spin puppet and, my own favorite, weasel-word hired puppet — I still do not find any evidence to support his accusations against the Cambria Community Services District manager, staff and board of directors.
The CCSD has hired a public information officer to expand outreach, support transparency, and provide factual, ongoing information. Mr. Cochrun implies that in doing so, “District Manager Gruber and his colleagues” are shirking their responsibilities while walking away with our money. Based on the faulty premise that small communities face only small challenges, he finds it “beyond belief” that the manager and staff carry a substantial workload.
He demands that Mr. Gruber and the board members “be available to answer any of our questions at any time.” He fails to understand the complexities or even see the realities faced by community service district officials, and he ignores their continuing public outreach efforts.
Mr. Gruber and staff attend to the walk-in public, emails, phone calls, text messages and appointments. They perform all the duties inherent in running an office and manage the day-to-day responsibilities of overseeing a community services district. They deal with an aging water and wastewater infrastructure and the emergencies intrinsic to its age.
How do board members make contact with their constituents? Having talked with some board directors, I know they answer email enquiries, return phone calls, hold informational workshops, and are available for personal consultations. In addition, they are often accessible before and after lengthy board meetings (during which they are routinely vilified).
Along with the board, Manager Gruber and his staff address the increasingly difficult challenges our community faces, the most important of which is our immediate and severe water shortage, a complex and volatile issue that promises disastrous consequences if a timely solution is not implemented. Providing an alternative water supply has been a historically complicated and controversial topic in Cambria, and continues to be so. No amount of contemptuous disregard on Mr. Cochrun’s part can negate the intricacies involved in ensuring water security for our community.
One of the few assertions in Mr. Cochrun’s piece that could be fact-checked didn’t fare too well. Despite his statement to the contrary, “our village” is not “smaller than many high schools.” According to highschoolguide.org, in 2011 there were five high schools in the US (all in New York) that were larger than the population of Cambria. Mr. Cochrun chooses to have fun with the idea that Cambria is small, rather than make an accurate comparison.
Mr. Cochrun says he “reached out” to other people as he framed his article. He claims that he asked a “wide range of people” in “elected, appointed, public service, research or advocacy roles.” He stated, “No one thought hiring a spokes-puppet was a good idea.” (Who would?)
But even if we imagine that he posed his question in a less biased way, wouldn’t we want to know the details of his opinion poll (such as how many people he talked to, and what specific experience they’ve had) before concluding that the public does not favor hiring a CSD spokesperson? Or is he, in effect, saying, “I talked to the people who count and I’m telling you what they’re saying so you’ll know what to think”?
Continuing in this vein, Mr. Cochrun asserts that among the members of certain “circles” there is concern that the newly-hired spokesperson for the CSD is actually not a “popular guy.” We are told that an indeterminate number of acquaintances known only to Mr. Cochrun have labeled the public information officer “controversial” and a “verbal battler.” The contentious, inflammatory tenor of these criticisms is off-putting rather than persuasive and, again, we aren’t given any real information.
Mr. Cochrun seems impossible to satisfy. He lectures on the need for transparency and accessibility, while maligning the board’s attempt to further respond to those needs by hiring a public information officer. I encourage all readers to familiarize themselves with this situation and talk to the people involved, rather than relying on Mr. Cochrun’s opaque call for transparency and misleading demand for accessibility.
Cambria, it is nice to feel the warmth and kindness of this paradise seaside town.
I was born here, moved away when young and relocated back at age 50.
I recently lost my wallet and was, of course, upset at the time.
I was hoping that a Good Samaritan acting in good faith would find a way to get the wallet back to me.
Well, not only did this happen, but they went an extra step by leaving it with my favorite restaurant, Robin’s.
Robin’s staff then took it and notified me via my email.
Thank you to all who made the efforts, displaying their honesty and kindness to a fellow citizen of Cambria.
I am grateful, indeed. Here’s to random acts of kindness!
Letters must be signed (no pseudonyms), with the writers address and phone number for verification. Shorter letters (under 250 words) on local topics by local authors are published sooner. E-mail letters to email@example.com, mail to The Cambrian, 2442 Main Street, Cambria, CA 93428; or fax to 927-4708. Letters should be received at The Cambrian by noon Friday to be considered for publication the following Thursday. All submissions become the property of The Cambrian.