MAYVILLE, NY (WNY News Now) — Chautauqua County’s legislature approved a new public relations-media officer position last week, but not without some political fanfare.
County Executive PJ Wendel says the position will help the county connect to its residents faster, and make sure the correct information is presented.
“Social media is such a huge presence. People want information now. Right now, we don’t have anybody on a county-wide level that does this. There is not one person that works with every department. If they want to do a press release, the department will generate it themselves, bring it to us, and then they will get it out via my office,” explains Wendel.
The new employee would also handle the social media pages for each department, allowing the other employees in these departments to focus on their jobs. The salary range for this position is $60,000 to $90,000 a year.
Wendel says that in the National Association of Counties, only five counties including Chautauqua, did not have this position.
“What it’s gonna do is provide a consistent constant message. We’re gonna expand ourselves and be able to do infomercials, small videos to inform our public,” says Wendel.
Debate about creating this position was divided on party lines, with District Four legislator Susan Parker amongst those against a staff increase within the county Executive’s Office.
“And in 2023 has now seven, which is an increase of 124.4 percent in the County Executive’s staff so I do not feel like there is need or that it is a good use of tax-funded money,” says Parker.
“It’s budgeted, there’s no increase to the budget. They approved the budget last year which this position was already there. Again, it is bipartisan, this is for every department in Chautauqua County. So the statement that it’s working in the County Executive’s office, that’s where the office will be, but it will be for everyone,” explains Wendel.
District 15’s Lisa Vanstrom says she supports the position because it promotes transparency.
“I really think our County Executive is really trying to make sure that whatever is happening in Chautauqua County, whether there’s a power outage or an emergency or something that our media has the access to the information immediately. Not trying to not communicate or to not let our citizens feel safe,” says Vanstrom.
Tom Nelson of District 13 agreed that the position is necessary, but believes one of Wendel’s current employees could take on the role instead of hiring an additional person. Billy Torres of District 9 agreed, but said he could not get behind spending that type of money when there are more pressing issues. Ultimately, the position passed by a 13 – 3 vote with three absent.