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By Hannah Romero

Commissioners expand PIO duties


December 8, 2022

The Sweetwater County Board of County Commissioners is hoping to improve county-wide communication by expanding the duties of the Public Relations Director for the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office, making the position a Public Informations Officer (PIO) for the county.

“For some time now there’s been some discussion about creating, or expanding the duties, more appropriately, to the public relations director role,” Gary McLean, the Human Resources Director, explained at Tuesday’s county commission meeting.

The board was presented with an amended and modified job description expanding the position’s roles and responsibilities.

“The amendments will make the Sheriff’s Public Information Officer available to the County Commissioners and other County departments to assist in both public and internal communications,” the documents included in the meeting packet explained.

The documents also detailed a 10% increase in salary to compensate for the additional roles and responsibilities.

According to McLean, there are two sides to the role — outward communication to the public and staff using media channels and also the ability to monitor and provide feedback to the board to fill communication gaps and make sure information is accurate as intended.

Commissioner Lauren Schoenfeld noted the commission has previously discussed and decided against hiring a new full-time PIO position, but has been looking for someone to help fill the role.

“It’s been recognized as a gap for our county for a long time,” Schoenfeld said.

While several current county employees were considered to take on extra duties, Jason Mower from the sheriff’s office was the one ultimately chosen for the task.

Mower, who was present at the meeting, said he has been working as the public relations officer for the sheriff’s office for about four years — a role which he was at first reluctant to take on but has since embraced.

“In this day and age it’s a role that is critically important,” Mower said.

The failure of the general purpose tax on last year’s ballot was one example of the effects of miscommunication or a lack of communication, according to Mower.

Sheriff John Grossnickle and several commissioners praised Mower’s work for the sheriff’s office in the past. Commissioner Roy Lloyd, while praising Mower’s previous work, also expressed concern over the process of making sure Mower is both directly in communication with everyone and not overwhelmed by too much work.

Mower admitted he was reluctant about the change for the same reason, but he believes the new responsibilities are a natural extension of what he’s already been doing and based on what’s been done he has confidence in what’s possible.

“I think it’s a move in the right direction,” Mower said. “I think everyone agrees the need is certainly there. And I’m willing to take a chance and find a way to make it work and see what comes of it.”

Commissioners Schoenfeld and Randy “Doc” Wendling agreed on the importance of having a follow-up in a few months to see how the position is working, make sure Mower isn’t overwhelmed with the amount of work, and re-evaluate creating a new full-time position if necessary.

“I think that we’re dipping our toe in the pool and appreciate you coming along with us,” Commission Chairman Jeff Smith told Mower.

The commissioners unanimously approved the changes to the new PIO position, which went into effect Dec. 7.


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