Kyle eyes new standards for accountability

The city of Kyle began discussions about hiring a Communications Director at its Nov. 19 meeting. The position would have a starting salary of $101,000 (including benefits), which city staff said is in line with starting salaries in the cities of Leander, Schertz and San Marcos.

The position would be funded by reallocating $80,000 with the remaining $20,000 coming from the general fund.

It was one of two new positions discussed during the meeting – the second was an assistant for the city secretary. Both represent, in the words of Mayor Travis Mitchell, a focus on evaluation the council is developing.

Mitchell said that at the council’s next meeting on Dec. 3 there will be a presentation on the initiative, labeled Kyle Accountability Standards for Excellence (KASE). “It’s a forward-looking document we are going to put forth,” he said, which will examine the performance of each city department and “have measurables for each and every department to be the best in the land.”

“Our benchmark is going to be to perform at the highest possible level in the city,” he said. “I think our council will unify behind that and start working on a culture shift. Not to say the culture at city hall is bad – that’s merely me pointing out our city council is starting to galvanize behind this idea of setting a high bar and actually clarifying what that bar is. We’ll see.”

Mitchell said as the concept is being rolled out, “It’s kind of an exciting and nervous time for us – it’s like you’ve been digging in the dirt for a while and you find a nugget of gold. You’re trying to polish it off and turn it into something of value.”

The nuts and bolts of that includes “restructuring some of the staff level positions” including in the Communications Department. “We have not given enough support to the Communications Department to deliver on standards we have for communications. This new position will create what we believe to be the means for the department to really elevate its deliverables. We’re going to expect and hold that department accountable for communications with residents throughout the city.”

Mitchell said he doesn’t blame Kim Hilsenbeck, who is Kyle’s communications manager (and a former editor of the Hays Free Press). “She is respected and valued but at the same time what we value most is having a high-functioning communications department. We’re trying to set it up to be high-functioning. We expect it will be, and we will hold the city manager accountable to make it happen.”

More discussion on the Communication Director position is also expected when the council convenes Dec. 3. Council member Daphne Tenorio made it clear during the meeting that she wants to see a detailed job description, including how the duties of the department would be split between the manager and director.

She also said the annual salary is “a lot of money,” and noted that it would be a recurring expense that would grow each year with raises. “I’m not against the position. What I’m against is doing something without the taxpayer knowing … this is a continual, perpetual expense. I want people to have an opportunity to speak about it.”

City Manager Scott Sellers said the proposed $101,000 was an “average” of what Leander (estimated population 56,111), Schertz (estimated population 41,057) and San Marcos (estimated population 63,509) initially pay for a communications director. Kyle’s estimated population is 46,874.

Council member Rich Koch, however, expressed impatience. “I feel like we’re stalling again,” he said during the council meeting. “I’m hesitant to keep putting this off when we know what we’re trying to do here in a broader sense … I’m ready to get the ball rolling, get communications the help that it needs.”

Sellers noted that communications “is an interesting department. Aside from administration, it’s the department that touches the council most. With the Communications Director position, we’re really looking at what the city as a whole is doing.” He said the city had previously planned on a “horizontal” position of a communication specialist which shifted to focusing on a director. That was “changed around,” he said, “based on feedback from council” to basically “add the director now and to go back and add another horizontal position later.”

Concerning the assistant city secretary, Mitchell said the City Secretary Jennifer Vetrano was promoted from an assistant position; however, that position was never filled. The new assistant position will be moved under the police department budget with funding reallocated from administration.

“They did not hire a new assistant and she (Vetrano) has so many things her job requires with the city growing like ours that she absolutely cannot keep up. We didn’t have a choice, either fund an assistant city secretary or lower our service to residents … it’s a critically needed position.”

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