city of san diego

City Council Hires ‘Communications Expert,' Expanding Ranks of City Spokespersons

Public records reveal a $4.2 million annual cost for city press secretaries, communications directors, support staff, and supervisors

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When San Diego City Council President Georgette Gomez announced the recent hiring of a communications director to represent the entire city council, a first for the city, at least one councilmember questioned if the position is worth $105,000 a year, plus benefits.

Those questions prompted NBC 7 Investigates to look at how much money taxpayers spend on the city of San Diego’s communications expertise.

The new hire is in addition to at least eight press secretaries who work for each of the nine city councilmembers, and a citywide communications department of more than 50 employees.

Many city departments also have their own spokesperson, most of whom work for the City Communications department, which also employees creative services experts, a budget analyst and a staffer who responds to Public Records Act requests.

Through public records, NBC 7 Investigates found the annual cost to taxpayers for communications officers citywide is more than $4.2 million in salaries (not including benefits.)

The salaries ranged from $51,000 to $165,000 for one department’s director.

In addition, Mayor Kevin Faulconer has five press aides -- City Attorney Mara Elliot employs a press secretary and two “community relations” specialists, and the police and fire departments have their own media and outreach experts.

The fire department has a civilian communications director, but the police department uses two sworn officers, a sergeant, and a lieutenant to handle media requests for information and other outreach tasks.

Altogether, it’s a $4.2 million public information operation that currently employs about 50 people.

“People expect information from their local government faster, on more platforms, and on a wider variety of issues than ever before,” explained Craig Gustafson, Senior Director of Communications for the Mayor and Interim Director of City Communications Department.

Gustafson said the city’s communication specialists “work every day to inform our 1.4 million residents about all that’s happening in their city – from new housing laws, to expanded after-school programs, to the latest neighborhood projects – while responding to thousands of media requests annually.”

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