2016-12-15 / Front Page

City to Resume CIO Recruitment

By Barry Bridges

Although Newport officials did some legwork this year in adding a chief information officer (CIO) to the city staff, they say that recruitment efforts have been postponed until early 2017.

That is the word from the city’s Director of Human Resources Michael Coury and City Manager Joseph Nicholson.

The job was advertised for two weeks in early August, and Coury told Newport This Week soon thereafter that his office was moving forward in reviewing the 45 applications that were submitted. But he recently reported that no interviews were granted with interested candidates at the time, and that city officials have taken a step back to reconsider the parameters of the position that will likely be re-posted next month.

“We received responses from very qualified applicants based on the job description we put out there,” said Coury. “But it’s now more of a question of which direction we want to go in. We need to identify what kind of person would serve the city best.”

Nicholson agreed that a fresh look will begin after the holidays. “We will get it rolling again at the beginning of the year, by mid-January,” he said.

The job duties have been subject to change since a chief information officer was first proposed by Councilor John Florez in September of 2015. At the time, Florez said, “We’re a globally-recognized city with a $130 million annual budget, and we have a lot of complexity and nuance. We’re also trying to redefine our landscape from a seasonal tourist economy to a far more complex, broader economy with a greater diversity of employment opportunities. A chief information officer is an essential hire … [who will create] greater efficiencies, significant cost savings, and a better delivery of services to citizens.”

But the role began to be intertwined with that of a previously proposed city communications director, a separate position that was also budgeted.

As Coury said in September, “The original discussions during the budget sessions were focused on a communications director; however, some members of the City Council desired the creation of a higher-level IT staff member. To accommodate the needs of the city and the desires of the council, we created a ‘hybrid’ position requiring both skill sets, entitled chief information officer.”

Accordingly, the job description posted in the summer outlined a variety of duties, but with a seemingly heavier focus on technology. Among the litany of outlined responsibilities, it was envisioned that the CIO would “develop and direct customer based and economic development information systems, technology, budgeting, and tactical planning” while also serving “as the primary city spokesperson for information and explore new technologies for future planning and potential implementation.” The individual would also be in charge of website development.

On the communications side of the equation, the need to develop “clear and consistent external communications” was a priority, with an additional emphasis on “developing productive working relationships with news media, residents, key customers, stakeholders, other city employees and members of the general public.”

Qualifications included five years of experience in website, social media, and communications, and an extensive knowledge of information systems management, analysis, and hardware and software applications. The anticipated salary range was listed as approximately $76,000 to $109,000.

Retreating from merging the duties of the communications director with the chief information officer, Nicholson said, “Initially we were trying to kill two birds with one stone by combining them. That was an internal idea that really hasn’t panned out.”

Other factors are coming into play as well, reinforcing the city’s decision to take another look at how to best leverage the position.

“We have some personnel changes coming up, so we have the opportunity to re-create some roles,” said Nicholson. “So we will look at the whole picture, but my recommendation to the council will most likely involve two jobs, with a separate communications person.”

The revised posting(s) will be included in newspapers and on typical online outlets such as Monster and EmployRI, and perhaps on specialty career sites. “We have a lot more success with online sources,” Coury said.

Florez said that it’s not unusual in the business world for communications personnel to also be involved with technology issues. And as for the eventual job responsibilities, he wants to ensure that the CIO’s duties are consistent with his most recent resolution, passed unanimously on Wednesday, Dec. 14, that directs the city staff to develop a “state-of-the-art and user friendly” website.

“There’s synergy in these efforts, and we want to make sure they are coordinated properly,” he said. “The new website should be started from scratch and will be a comprehensive tool for city communications, consolidating the information from the current website and Engage Newport into one transparent and innovative site.”

“The CIO is an important position, and I will work to make it a priority with the start of the new year,” said Florez.

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