Belmont has quietly joined a small group of communities that have hired communications professionals to reach out to the public.
The town recently hired a public information specialist, a first for the community of 24,000 residents. Robert Reardon Jr., who graduated from college last year and most recently ran for the 24th Middlesex District state representative seat, started his job in Belmont last month. His annual salary is $42,000.
Reardon will field questions from residents, update the town’s website, and help shape public documents, such as Belmont’s annual report, said David Kale, the town administrator.
The town had part-time administrative assistants who handled some of those duties in the past, Kale said.
But Kale said he decided to eliminate those part-time positions and hire a full-time public information specialist and expand the duties.
With online communication becoming more prevalent, the town needed somebody with more social-networking skills, said Selectman Andres Rojas.
“It’s become very important for even a small town’s life,” Rojas said. “We’re moving into the digital age as a town.”
Citizens use e-mail to ask questions and make requests of town officials, and Town Meeting members expect to be frequently updated, Rojas said.
Suburban school districts, such as Newton, Marlborough, Concord-Carlisle, and Lexington, have turned to communications experts recently.
In some cases, officials felt overwhelmed by the media attention drawn by a crisis and wanted somebody to present the community’s perspective. In some school systems, the public information officer handles the website and serves as the district’s liaison with residents.
Smaller communities and school districts had been reluctant to add the position to their payrolls.
Arlington and Newton have public information officials, but Brookline and Framingham do not.
Salaries for public information officers can vary.
The Concord-Carlisle Regional High School building committee is spending $40,000 for a part-time position. The Marlborough school district’s communications liaison earns $65,000.
Newton has a citizens assistance officer who is paid $57,125 for performing public information duties.
Belmont officials picked Reardon, who graduated from Bentley University last year, from among the handful of candidates who were interviewed for the job because of his deep roots in town.
“He can hit the ground running in terms of understanding Belmont,” Kale said.
Reardon has been a Town Meeting member, and his father is chairman of the Board of Assessors. He was defeated in the Democratic primary for the 24th Middlesex District seat on Beacon Hill.