The Lower Merion Board of Commissioners on Wednesday night approved the appointment of career journalist Thomas J. Walsh as the new township public information officer, after debating whether the position was a necessary expense in tough economic times. The vote was 9-3, with Commissioners Philip Rosenzweig, Jenny Brown and Lewis Gould voting against. Scott Zelov and Jane Delheim were absent.
The township public information officer serves as the liason to the media, and will also "be responsible for developing, organizing and coordinating a comprehensive public information program, along with maximizing the production potential of the Township's Government Access Television Channel," a township press release states.
Walsh has been a journalist for more than 20 years, including work at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Business Journal, PlanPhilly.com, Knowledge@Wharton, and AOL/Patch. He began his career as a broadcast journalist and public affairs specialist in the U.S. Navy.
While no commissioners questioned Walsh's credentials, several questioned the necessity of having a full-time salaried public information officer, particularly on the heels of
"[The position] was created when times were good and there wasn't much concern about how much money the government should be spending and what for," Gould said. "Today that's not the case. We are in desperate financial times, they're getting even more desperate by the day. And the primary cause of that [problem] is runaway spending by government. This is a perfect example of … an unnecessary expense in a time of great financial turmoil."
Brown said that there has been discussion as to whether some of the responsibilities of the public information officer should be reorganized. Since that discussion will not take place until September, she felt the position should not be filled until that time.
"Your credentials are great, you’re the right man for the job, I’m going to vote no, but welcome," Rosenzweig said.
Gould also said that the position "is so far away from being a core governmental position, it couldn't be further away."
Other commissioners were of the mind that the position is absolutely a core governmental position.
"One of the most important parts of our job is accountability to those we serve," Gelber said.
McGuire also emphasized the position's importance, noting that various methods to engage with citizens, including social media, must be used. "Because this is a large-sized municipality, because it has faced many issues ... there's no doubt in my mind that we need to fill this position now."
Commissioners voted 9-3 to approve the appointment, with dissenting votes from commissioners Rosenzweig, Brown and Gould. Zelov and Delheim were absent.
Walsh's first day of work will be July 25.