Petersburg Phase 1
In November 2016, The Robert Bobb Group (RBG) retained two people, one of which is myself, the other is Leslie Strickler of Etre Communications, to manage the Public Information Office for the City of Petersburg. We job shared as both of us are consultants in the Marketing environment. I title this project Petersburg Phase 1 because our contract covered November 15, 2016 through the end of March 2017 and mirrors the RBG contract, although theirs was bit longer starting in late October 2016.
The first part of the project was as all Discovery. My being hired was due to my experience with working with numerous groups in Petersburg for the past five years; first with the non-profit, Think Then Choose Wisely, which is discussed in a separate blog entry, and second with the Historic Petersburg Foundation. Through HPF, Lythos Studios became familiar with many people in the Old Towne Petersburg area.
During this Discovery Phase of the project, we had to become familiar with a new City Manager, Finance Director, Deputy City Manager, nearly 15 department directors, numerous City employees, City Council members, firemen, policeman, and so on. Our first assignment was to create a process for releasing information to the media. The position had been vacant prior to RBG's arrival.
The team consisted of Robert Bobb, Tom Tyrrell, Nelsie Birch, Dileep Rajan, Leslie Strickler and myself at the very beginning. Jack Berry, former CEO of Venture Richmond, joined the team in January as the Deputy City Manager.
The number of problems the City was experiencing are too many to list for this endeavor. However, they included a fiscal crisis that could not be corrected with bankruptcy because the Commonwealth does not allow its Cities to bankrupt themselves.
As RBG began to examine financial records from the various City departments and Constitutional Offices such as Treasurer and Commissioner of Revenue, they realized that not only was the data lacking in transparency, it was simply wrong. Accounts that included revenues and expenses from Federal, State and Local levels were intertwined with indistinguishable account codes; thus making debits and credits nearly impossible to report accurately in a general ledger. Numerous accountants and accounting firms simply walked out the door when confronted with this Herculean task of trying to determine what entries were real or not real. The RBG group reports to City Council every other Tuesday night beginning at 6:30 pm. There are many other closed door sessions, work sessions, a Saturday morning visioning session and most last for hours. It is typical for a Tuesday night Council meeting to last past 11 pm and legally has to stop at midnight.
The City Council is made up from the following Wards and members:
1 Treska Wilson-Smith
2 Darrin Hill
3 Samuel Parham
4 Charles H. Cuthbert
5 W. Howard Myers
6 Annette Smith-Lee
7 John A. Hart Sr.
During Petersburg Phase 1, we released information as the new Interim City Manager advised and as the team began to discover the complexities of the City of Petersburg government and culture.
At the end of March 2017, we found our contract was to be extended for another three months until June 30, 2017. From inception, we have released hundreds of press materials, appeared on CBS6, NBC12, ABC8, NPR WCVE/88.9, and have been quoted in a variety of digital and printed publications. The most interesting and exciting (from my perspective) event occurred at the Siege Museum which will be reported in a subsequent blog entry. Some of the individual events are so interesting, they merit their own blog posts.
The City of Petersburg website is www.petersburg-va.org