Aspen officials zeroing in on high-level communications position |

Aspen officials zeroing in on high-level communications position

The city of Aspen is doubling down on its public outreach budget and is inching closer to hiring a new director of communications.

While the job posting doesn’t close until the end of the month, the top six candidates were interviewed this week, said Alissa Farrell, the city’s human resources director.

She added that roughly 60 people have applied so far, and they range in experience from those who work in public administration, journalism, public relations and marketing.

Farrell said the next step is to form a panel of interested parties for on-site interviews and continue to monitor any new applicants.

While there is no deadline for when the new position will be filled, time is of the essence for the municipal government to interact with the public in a different way.

“The timeline is as soon as possible,” Farrell said.

The pay range for the job is between $93,307 and $131,097, plus benefits.

The city already has a community relations director, Mitzi Rapkin, who makes $94,578 a year, plus benefits.

Adding a supervisor role in the communications department is part of an overall public outreach goal with the public.

Ott said in her experience with other governments she has worked for and with, the amount of money the city spends on communications is paltry in comparison.

“As an organization with a $120 million budget and we are not spending even one half of 1 percent (on communications) is kind of out of the norm,” she said.

The new position will create a strategic framework that is predictable and reliable for the community, Ott noted, adding that the city’s multimedia and social media presence needs improvement, as well.

“We are not where the world is,” she said.

And it became abundantly clear in the past year with several controversial initiatives that came out of City Hall that the public needs more ways to interact with its government.

“The community has a higher expectation in how they want to be contacted and reached and how they can participate,” Ott said. “So we are doubling our capacity in helping our community participate.”

The city does pay for outside public relations firms on various projects and will continue to on a case-by-case basis, Ott said.

Such was the case when the city embarked on the Castle Creek Bridge project last year.

The contractor was required to provide PR and communications services, which amounted to a $76,435 price tag to contract with Carbondale-based PR Studio for its information outreach effort.

PR Studio also is the communications firm for the municipal office project at Rio Grande Place, which amounts to $50,000.

In house, the city is poised to spend nearly $343,000 this year on two positions in the communications department, as well as additional expenses related to training and professional development.

Aspen City Councilman Ward Hauenstein said it’s a long time coming for the city to better communicate with its citizens.

“If $300,000 does break down barriers and boundaries, it is money well spent,” he said Tuesday. “The problem is that we never know going into it if the outcome will be a success. Show me a government that works. Show me a model of communication and engagement that unites us and them. I will gladly mimic it and apply it to Aspen.”

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