Opinion: The PIO carousel goes round and round

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It looked like your county commissioners might have been fibbing.

Instead, they’re making some very unusual and very quiet job changes — somehow creating a “communications” director instead of the PIO (public information officer) that seemed so highly coveted just a few weeks ago.

The reason for this appearance of fibbing goes back to something Commissioner Chris Fillios told The Press on Monday.

Fillios was quoted this way …

“We’ll divvy up the responsibilities internally with a minor restructure.

“There will not be a pure PIO because the responsibilities will likely be distributed to three people.”

Say what?

Fillios agreed on Wednesday afternoon that the three-person idea was impossible, and said that there was a slight misunderstanding in his communication with The Press.

OK, then, what is actually happening in this county game of musical chairs?

SOURCES INSIST that the Board of County Commissioners will meet in executive session today and hand the bulk of a PIO job to Nancy Jones, the board’s current administrative supervisor.

If you follow this column regularly, you’ll remember that I am absolutely against the notion of hiring a PIO at all, simply because it puts another layer of bureaucracy between county elected officials and the public.

I’ve seen it go wrong too many times.

But this current idea looks even worse because the commissioners, two of whom will be out of office in January, seem to be sneaking Jones in through the back door by offering her the job without a whisper — then giving it some other title simply to claim they haven’t hired a PIO.

Fillios didn’t exactly go the “No comment” route on Wednesday, but he remained cryptic about which of three jobs would be shuffled, and so on.

He did say, however, that one individual — I wonder who could that be? — would have a communications role as a main part of this new split job.

A sticking point remains to cloud the optics of this even further …

None of the positions involved will be posted for the general public, an issue which Fillios defended by saying that only someone already with the county could fully grasp the structure of its operations.

I’m not sure about that, but Fillios is so positive this scheme will work that he admitted it was entirely his call, and added: “I don’t want to sound exactly like Trump, but I can do this.”

WHICH BRINGS us to today, and an 11 a.m. board meeting — with the second agenda item listed as an executive session for the purpose of hiring.

Fillios claimed he didn’t know what would happen because he didn’t put the session on the agenda.

Mini-fib alert on that one.

Seriously, though, this whole dance in the county building seems questionable, on several levels.

Please understand: I have nothing against Nancy Jones, who is considered a first-rate county employee.

But the PIO spot itself is unnecessary, for a start.

Several serving officials, including County Clerk Jim Brannon, have publically stated their opposition to the idea.

And then you have this almighty rush to put Jones in the communications job and get several changes made, all before two new commissioners are seated in January.

AS MUCH as I disagree with putting a sort-of-PIO in place, Fillios did say it would cost very little in terms of a staff raise, and that he truly was trying to improve transparency rather than stifle it.

Bottom line, this whole affair isn’t something that’s likely to wind up as a model in any civics books.

Fillios seems to get that, but believes he can arrange the deck chairs in such a way that taxpayers will get a better look at their county government.

I can’t quite get on board with it, mostly because with a job that Fillios admits is quite important, I think it should be officially posted and the county would benefit from an all-out search.

If that took place and Jones were the best candidate — and she well might be — then give her good money and hold her accountable.

The process that apparently may start today seems like a halfway thing, and those require a real roll of the dice.

Fillios is gambling with this one.


Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

A Brand New Day appears Wednesday through Saturday each week. Steve’s sports column runs on Tuesday.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.


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