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Committee to recommend revised communications position

A revised job description with a new title to replace the former communications director position was distributed for review during the Oct. 11 Budget Committee meeting.
The communications position, held by Jeff Keeling, was included in the list of budget cuts commissioners approved during the Sept. 8 called meeting.
“The main change is there is no intended contact with the media,” Mayor Dan Eldridge said.
“The focus will be on community relations, special projects and the web site.”
Eldridge said there were many allegations from members of the county commission that Keeling was writing articles that appeared in the Herald&Tribune and the Johnson City Press with a negative slant toward the commissioners.
“That position was held by numerous members,” Eldridge said, “and it led to a negative attitude from some commissioners to both the position and Jeff Keeling personally. It ultimately led to the elimination of the position.”
Eldridge said some of the commissioners also feel like they are receiving an inordinate amount of scrutiny as a result of Keeling’s efforts.
While Eldridge said both concerns are completely unfounded, he does not want to put another employee in that situation.
“I don’t think it’s fair that action toward an employee could be generated by a perception,” he said.
Any contact with the media will now be handled by the mayor’s office.
“I ran (for office) with the goals of making the government transparent, being available to the media, and being accountable to the public, and I’m not going to back down on that,” Eldridge said.
The Director of Public Relations and Special Projects will also have responsibility for writing grant applications, a role Keeling filled.
Eldridge said the job will require education and special talents, ability and experience. Several people have already expressed interest in the position.
“We’re competing with the private sector, and there is a demand for the same salary level,” he said.
Commissioner Mark Larkey made a motion to recommend reinstating $48,000 in funding for the new position, Commissioner Joe Grandy seconded, and it passed unanimously.
Advertising for the position will begin if the commission approves funding during its Oct. 31 meeting.