One of the newest fads in local government spending is for towns and cities to create a new position, which they often term, rather blandly, a “public information officer.”
But they might as well go ahead and give the position the name that actually represents what they really want and intend: a propagandist.
These new positions are, quite typically, created in order to create “positive spin” about the city, in the parlance of public relations folks – or outright propaganda in the terminology of the 20th century.
For what this really translates to, in practice, is a desire to manage and control the flow of information about their municipality, couching everything in lovely terms. Or, in Mebane, to accompany the city’s motto, in “positively charming” terms.
We can just picture it now: a Mebane equivalent of Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, denying over and over again that there is a “crisis” at the southern U.S. border, which is being overrun with illegal aliens.
In Mebane’s case, we’re quite sure part of the “narrative” will be to minimize the high property taxes that citizens there are, and have been, paying; the number of and growth in the number of how many city employees it takes to run the city; the extraordinarily high salaries and lush benefits that Mebane city employees make, compared to their counterparts in other municipal governments, in Alamance County and elsewhere – and way more than in the private sector; and to try to persuade residents that all of the fees and services that they’re being asked to pay are so reasonable.
To their credit, Mebane officials were at least honest enough to reveal their true (propagandist) intentions for the new post in their promotional materials about the new position.
During a budget presentation last week, the new bureaucrat – one of 21 new full-time positions being requested by various Mebane departments across city government and at a cost of $101,840, just by the way – was described as including the following purpose: “Tell our story and control/complement the narrative.”
Ah, so there it is: they want to “control the narrative.”
“Narrative.” That’s the new public relations word for, well, public relations itself.
They want to influence what the message is and how it is to be interpreted by residents.
Who, exactly, is to be controlled?
Neither is a good choice.
Usually, an adjunct characteristic of most public information officers is that they become purveyors, in actuality, of just the opposite purpose from their titles.
They don’t exist to “provide” information; rather, they exist to control it, often to restrict that which is not favorable to the city – keeping unfavorable information away, first from the press, and ultimately from the public at large. To delay. And to obfuscate. They act as a “gatekeeper” of information. Again, think current White House press secretary.
People (i.e., Mebane residents) aren’t supposed to think for themselves; they are to be influenced by the public information officer to accept “the narrative” the city wants them to hear.
Well, as readers can probably tell, we’re not very enamored of this newest fad – neither in Mebane, nor anywhere else for that matter.
The only hope for avoiding the creation of this brainwashing advocate at the taxpayers’ expense is that there will be too many other higher priorities competing for funding in this year’s budget.
While many of the stated needs and desires of individual department heads – in personnel, buildings, and equipment – were often exaggerated during the budget presentations to the city council last week, there is no doubt but that any additional police officer, firefighter, or garbage man would be a far more vital addition to Mebane’s city government than a so-called public information officer – and, almost always, for far less money.