Last Thursday, on the second day in his new position as public information officer for the city of Corvallis, Patrick Rollens got a glimpse of how he can help make a difference.
Explosions were heard at the north end of town, leading to numerous phone calls and emails to the Gazette-Times as well as calls to 9-1-1 dispatchers.
As it turned out, the booms were part of a multiagency training exercise at the Corvallis Fire Department’s new facility north of the Public Works Department. Although the agencies had talked to each other about plans for the exercise, no one notified the community as a whole.
“There could have been all sorts of opportunities if I had the infrastructure in place,” Rollens said. “Tweets … Facebook posts. Push the message across platforms and head off the calls. I hope to have that up and running in the next few months.”
The public information officer position is new for the city, although various city staffers, including Ellen Volmert when she was assistant city manager, played key roles in communication and public outreach.
“I’ve been thinking of it like we’re starting fresh,” Rollens said. “This is a reboot. I don’t have to hew too close to what we used to do.”
Given that the city’s Twitter account has produced a total of 11 tweets and Rollens is unsure who has the password … “it’s a little bit open,” he said. “I want to try some things.”
Rollens’ supervisor, City Manager Mark Shepard, said he has dual roles in mind for his new employee:
• Strengthening the flow of information from the council and the city to the community.
• Managing the flow of information from the community to the organization and council, as appropriate.
In an email, Shepard also said Rollens will work to “improve the city’s website to make it more user-friendly, initiate/manage use of social media (and) look for other areas where the city can do a better job of telling our story and informing the community what is happening.”
Rollens came west because he felt he had hit a ceiling in his previous public information officer position in Oak Park, Ill. And he wanted to come west.
“I’m really excited about getting out here to this neck of the woods,” he said. “It’s been a goal for me and my family for a few years.”
Rollens caught the Pacific Northwest bug while attending a pair of Portland conferences of a group called Engaging Local Government Leaders, which works to provide support for mid-career government professionals.
Rollens plans to be present, whenever possible, at all City Council meetings and other community meetings.
“And if I am not present at meetings I will be helping develop (public outreach) campaigns,” he said.
One of the challenges Rollens faces is determining what success looks like.
“That’s a good question,” Rollens said, noting that he will be working with Shepard on a a battle plan. “You want to establish baseline metrics such as Facebook followers. We struggled with this at Oak Park. You can count streets paved and potholes filled, but it’s harder to measure when and how people get information. We need to find a way to put some numbers on (this).”