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Talk About Santa Monica Government Communications Gets Heated  

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

February 17, 2017 -- A back and forth between Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole and Councilmember Sue Himmelrich on the City’s communication policy reached such an intensity Tuesday night that Mayor Ted Winterer had to cut it off.

Himmelrich challenged a proposal to spend up to $350,000 for the private firm Good Worldwide’s “communications and outreach services” on some topics, including homelessness and diversity.

She said these tasks could be handled by the City’s in-house communications team, which was significantly expanded in 2015 ("Council Approves Sweeping Reorganization of Santa Monica’s Public Communications Department,” September 9, 2015).

“I don’t know why it is outside their capacity to do this because I know they are capable,” Himmelrich said.

But Cole said the City is “grossly under-resourced in modern communication” and that the council shouldn’t be “nickeling-and-diming our communication policy.”

Cole told Himmelrich, “We buy a bus and you don’t blink, but we advertise a bus and you’re asking how come we’re spending money. We’re spending money because we’re going to produce results."

He continued, “We live in an age of communication, and if we don’t want to play in that world, then we’re going to play in 1950. But this is 2017, and we have to invest in communication.”

Before the back and forth could continue any longer, Mayor Winterer said, “I’m going to cut this off because I think this is turning into a one-on-one dialogue.” Cole later apologized for being “passionate.”

Other council members weighed in, all siding with Cole’s point of view as the conversation went beyond just this contract to their belief the City needs high-level communications.

McKeown said municipal communications is needed “as the phrase alternative facts has come into the common parlance.”

He continued, “There is so much information out there not all of which is accurate, that for our city to effectively move forward on the policies that we as a council decide on, we have to be out there competing for people’s attention and competing for people’s hearts and minds.”

The vote to approve the contract was 5-2. Voting in opposition with Himmelrich was Tony Vazquez, who objected to the City not choosing a minority-owned firm that had bid for the contract.

“I know there’s capable minority-owned businesses out there, and I want to send a strong message that we need to do a better job of giving these folks an opportunity,” Vazquez said.

“And I think this was a perfect place to do it. That’s my disappointment.”

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