A deal with a Fresno-based consulting firm to help with public outreach and social media is one of the expenses that could be on the cutting block as Tuolumne County enters what is expected to be a difficult fiscal year.
At the end of a lengthy public meeting on Tuesday, the county board of supervisors briefly discussed District 5 supervisor Jaron Brandon’s request to ask contractor Archer and Hound to present his results over the past two years.
The board approved a deal with the company for up to $100,000 per year in May 2021 to manage the county’s communications and branding through social media and other platforms. County staff could renew their contract each year for up to three years.
Brandon stated in a letter to the rest of the board ahead of Tuesday’s meeting that the purpose of the deal “was to increase transparency, civics and engagement with our community.”
“As of that date, we have not asked for a public account of how that money was spent,” Brandon wrote in the letter. “We don’t have a report with data on things like cost per view, campaign engagement and reach, and which departments or programs used their services.”
County administrator Tracie Riggs said at a meeting on Tuesday that the number of followers on the county’s Facebook page had increased from 900 to 7,000 under the contractor’s leadership, while views of recruiting ads had increased about “ten-fold”.
Riggs also noted that the county is facing a “tougher fiscal year than it has had in a long time” and asked if the board would like to discuss the deal during the budget negotiations rather than asking for a separate presentation.
Board Chairwoman Kathleen Haff, District 4 County Supervisor, and District 1 Manager David Goldemberg expressed that the results of the contract did not meet their expectations, but agreed that a separate presentation would not be necessary.
“I don’t think we’ll have budget money for it next year, so why drag them through the presentation at all?” Haf asked.
The board usually begins discussing the budget in late May or early June and approves the proposed version before the end of the fiscal year on June 30. The final version is usually approved by the board in August or September.
In response to some of the board’s criticism, Riggs also said the county was at fault for contract performance not meeting expectations.
“If anyone failed here, it was the organization that failed Archer and Hound,” said Riggs. “We didn’t take the time to work with this company to give them the information they need to really do a great job.
“If you look at what they’re doing in other cities and jurisdictions, they’re unbelievable, but we’ve got some departments that have chosen not to use them, we’ve got some that do it part-time, and we just don’t have the time to give them the information “.
The idea of hiring a public relations and social media consultant was a response to a professional survey commissioned by the board in 2019, which showed that only 39% of residents believed that the local government was going in the right direction at this time.
An RFP from potential consultants was sent in November 2019, and Archer and Hound were ultimately selected. However, the COVID-19 pandemic that followed put the plans on hold until the deal was approved in May 2021.