Montana Politics

State Agencies and Media Relations Specialists:Huh?

The Department of Public Health and Human
Service is responsible for a great deal of important work in
Montana. As Joan Miles indicated after the Legislative session ended

These include 20 new caseworkers to investigate and
help resolve cases of child abuse and neglect; community mental
health programs, such as suicide-prevention, drop-in centers and
crisis-treatment centers; expanding eligibility for the
Children’s Health Insurance Plan; and a pilot program to
provide government-funded health insurance for low-paid home-health
workers who help the elderly in their homes.

Those are real achievements, and getting the legislature to fully
fund the programs that are vital to the most vulnerable Montanans
is exactly what the DPHHS should be doing. What they shouldn't be
doing is spending taxpayer money creating a new position for
someone as a media relations specialist.

I just don't get the need. The DPHHS already employs someone as a
public affairs officer. Can anyone explain the difference between
these two positions? Can someone explain why an additional position
is now required? More importantly, can someone explain what
position was not filled in order to fill this one?

The DPHHS didn't mention this hire when they discussed their needs
to the Legislature in 2007. This document prepared by the DPHHS, says that
2007 Funding increases will allow them to add 112.9 FTEs. It's
interesting that the document does not list anyone in media
relations, but instead focuses on the core mission of the
department, health, and you know, human services.

But maybe this is a critical position. It would appear not. This web page produced by the DPHHS, lists all
the news releases from the agency this year. The average number of
releases? About 6. In no month this year did the DPHHS have more
than eight press releases for the public. What critical releases
has DPHHS offered this month? A groundbreaking report that suggests
when it's hot you can dehydrate, a boilerplate release about VISTA
volunteers, and the full text of a report from Eat Right Montana.

I'm not someone who reflexively criticizes the size of the
government, but I am someone who is increasingly frustrated with
government agencies spending tax money on positions like this. In
the context of the DPHHS this new position isn't terribly
significant, but how do government agencies justify spending money
on self-promotion rather than real work?

Whether it's Bob Anez getting paid $70,000 to publish newsletters in Microsoft Word for
Corrections or Bowen Greenwood getting time off from the Secretary
of State's office to campaign for Conrad Burns, I'm skeptical
that state agencies need to hire people to put out press releases
and promote their bosses.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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