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Washington County opens Public Relations and Community Affairs department

March 08, 2013|By HOLLY SHOK | holly.shok@herald-mail.com
  • James Jenkins is the Public Relations and Community Affairs Manager for Washington County in their new office location at 120 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Washington County has opened a Public Relations and Community Affairs department with a staff of three.

The department, working out of offices at 120 W. Washington St. next to the County Administration Building, began operating Feb. 28. The staff will serve as a direct line of communication for the community, according to public relations and community affairs manager James Jenkins.

“Our goal is to kind of provide customer service for the county,” Jenkins said Thursday. “We want to ... be that conduit of information to the county and its residents.”

Jenkins, 39, of Chambersburg, Pa., will serve as the department’s manager, responsible for strategic marketing initiatives and media relations. He will act as Washington County spokesman.

The salary for his position is $51,471 annually.

The department’s other staffers are Marketing Specialist Tabitha Porterfield and Communications Coordinator Emily Ahalt.

Porterfield, 25, of Martinsburg, W.Va., will assist in managing marketing initiatives in coordination with the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission in addition to general county public information programs. She will earn $44,128 annually.

Ahalt, 22, of Boonsboro, will serve in the area of technical media event planning and administrative support. She will earn $32,435 annually.

 In addition to leading the county’s communications efforts, Assistant County Administrator Sarah Lankford Sprecher will head the department. The team, Sprecher said, will serve to field public inquiries that until now did not have an established interface.

“It’s wonderful, we definitely have been waiting for a public relations team to help engage the community,” Sprecher said Thursday.

In addition to a social media presence on websites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the department will attend outreach events and be available in person, by email or phone Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Sprecher said the creation of the department and the hiring of three new employees were approved by the Washington County Board of Commissioners following County Administrator Greg Murray’s proposal for a restructuring that re-appropriated funds from vacant positions — in the departments of Public Information, EDC, Planning and Zoning and Public Works.

Even with the new positions, she said, overall the result will be a net savings of $117,000.

“Now the end result is hopefully better communication with our citizens, businesses, organizations as a whole,” Sprecher said.

The department is in a 1,500-square-foot first floor space in what is known as the former PNC Bank building that the county had purchased, with the addition of lots, for $3.3 million in March 2008. About a tenth of the building has tenants.

The department’s space, Sprecher said, was already equipped with three corner offices. In addition to furnishings, the county painted the walls and treated the glass widows and doors.

The Public Relations and Community Affairs office can be reached at publicaffairs@washco-md.net or by calling 240-313-2382.

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