PLAINFIELD, NJ — The final department to present its 2020 budget was Communications and Technology, headed up by Jazz Clayton-Hunt. At the May 20 meeting, she said 2020 has not gone the way her department anticipated due to COVID-19; however, she added her team moved very quickly once the coronavirus became an imminent threat to create a safe, virtual environment for the City of Plainfield to continue to do business.
Critical workers at City Hall were provided devices to work from home, and she said her department managed this transition within two weeks. Additional machines had to be purchased because the city does not have an official ‘work from home’ policy, so provisions were not made on a large scale.
"The IT Division worked around the clock to find and offer solutions to employees,” as well as residents, “and researched many options to find the best virtual software for public meetings,” including boards and commissions.
Clayton-Hunt said her department immediately stepped up its communications efforts. A third newsletter for residents was created to serve as a resource guide; the email newsletters are disseminated on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. A page dedicated to information on COVID-19 was added to the website, daily statistics are posted and distributed to news outlets, and several live broadcasts with the Mayor and members of the administration have been conducted.
Last year, Clayton-Hunt said, was extremely busy due to planning events related to the 150th Anniversary of the city. “In all, we were able to provide resources on the front end, and technical and media coverage for each event, support and marketing on the front and back end for over 20 events throughout the year.”
She said her group is largely a support department. “To that end, we’re focused on providing a high level of service to our fellow employees, as well as to the residents of Plainfield.” Bandwidth, she said, was increased for users in several locations, the first phase of a digitization project that entails the scanning of paper records and files was successfully completed, and the department integrated the newly digitized information with a fast track system that currently automates workflow across departments.
Eighty percent of employees’ software was updated to the Windows 10 platform but efforts have been sidetracked by the coronavirus. “We are in the process of upgrading all desktop units across the city, and that is ongoing as funding allows.” She said to safeguard the city from another cyber attack, the use of a new software has been implemented that allows fake phishing emails to be sent to employees in an effort to increase awareness and create teaching opportunities to educate staff on how to avoid becoming a victim.
Under media and communications, Clayton-Hunt said the division has been working on increasing the visibility of the city using its social media channels.
- Facebook 'likes' are up 127%, or 3,056, since January 2019; followers are up 142%;
- Daily page reach has increased from 800 per day to around 4,200 per day, hitting periodic highs of 25,000;
- In the first quarter of 2019, Twitter impressions were around 22,600;
- Over the last 91 days, tweets have had 277,200 impressions;
- Several original programs have been developed for PCTV;
- Four separate ads were in rotation in primetime in select markets in New York and New Jersey, as well as on digital platforms, and each ad highlighted something new and positive about the community;
- Ads ran in two theaters over a six-month period, and;
- The second round of Cisco classes has also commenced; virtual training is currently taking place.
During her presentation in April 2019, Clayton-Hunt said the website was slated for upgrades, along with a redesign and relaunch of the mobile app, now no longer in use. She also said a major 2019 goal was “to create a more satisfying experience for all PCTV viewers, and increase viewership” through several projects, including facilitating live streaming of council meetings within the next three months.
Based on Clayton-Hunt's comments this year, the department is in the process of building a new website that will be rolled out sometime in the third quarter of this year. She said a forensic audit was done to see if it was worth it to maintain the current site that has almost 300 pages of data, or build a new one from the ground up. The decision was to go with the latter.
Councilwoman Ashley Davis asked if the new website will be mobile friendly because the current one is not; Clayton-Hunt answered it would be optimized for mobile.
"We will finish the installs needed so that the council meetings can be broadcast live,” Clayton-Hunt added.
Jaime Glover, Station Manager of Plainfield Community Television, said of the live stream plans: “We were in the last leg of it in March,” adding, “we’re right there."
In response to a cost question from Davis on program and training initiatives, Clayton-Hunt said the increase from $220 last year to $6,000 this year is for training, specifically for the media staff on how to run live streams for the council meetings. “Once that software is installed, there’s a specific training that has to take place."
Councilwoman Joylette Mills-Ransome asked how the new website will address residents' concerns about the lack of information available on the site. Clayton-Hunt said the processes will be set by the individual departments. “What we do is facilitate the placement of that information on the website, but we’re not the ones who create the documents or decide how that process is going to run.” She said information will available with one to two clicks instead of having to drill down to find the information needed.
Councilman Sean McKenna made a statement, saying, “I think the communications department has a lot of work to do," and called the work dated. “I don’t need to ask any questions to see that your department needs to be cut a lot because there’s a lot of waste and silly spending."
Councilwoman Davis wanted to know what the outside consulting services were for and why they cost so much. She was told the Cisco contracts are paid from that budget line, with monies going to Union County College and a tutor that works on behalf of the city.
Council Vice President Elton Armady asked if the Mayor is still slated to give a State of the City address.
Mayor Mapp said, “Although it is always good to reflect, and to look back, and to provide an update to our residents in terms of what has been accomplished, I think it’s more important right now, given the state of the pandemic crisis we’re in, and not focus on looking back at the accomplishments of 2019. My focus and the focus of this administration is on the present and on the future. Looking at how we best manage the resources that we have, how we are to respond to the financial needs and hardships that our residents are experiencing and basically what things would look like in terms of our employees in city Hall, and the public and being able to open back the city. Those are things that I’m focused on.”
The Mayor made a clarification, saying the charter requires he give an annual update. "I did that officially at the reorg meeting earlier this year, so I fulfilled the requirement of the charter. The expanded State of the City is something that I put in place since I took office. But in terms of my obligation under the charter, that was fulfilled at the reorganization meeting.”
During public comment, Timothy Priano reminded council members that this is their budget, not the administration's. “You will make the decisions where the cuts are, where you feel, as council people, they need to be cut.”
Mary Burgwinkle asked what the metrics are to spend money on advertising and some of the programs on PCTV. “There has to be a way to measure whether anyone’s watching it, or if we’re getting anything out of some of it.”
She also commented on the two jobs the Director holds. “It seems untenable to me that you could be the Chief of Staff for the Mayor, and the Department Director of Communications and IT.” She cited the charter, saying department heads are appointed by the Mayor, but subject to the direction and supervision of the Business Administrator. She said there is an inherent conflict of interest, including communication from the city that looks more like public relations for the Mayor.
Samseketha ’Sam’ Cooper suggested adding the 800 number for the Spanish-speaking population to fill out the U.S. Census on materials that are distributed in the city.
The Citizens Budget Advisory Committee's report will be presented on Wednesday, May 27 at 7 p.m. Here is the link to access the Zoom meeting: https://zoom.us/j/99101955881.
The budget will then go before the City Council on June 8 for possible adoption.
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