AMESBURY — The City Council voted 7-1 to hire a communications director at a yearly salary of roughly $54,000, leaving the city with about $1,300 in surplus Tuesday night.

Mayor Kassandra Gove ran successfully for office last year on a platform of improved local government transparency and told the council that the new communications director position is intended to develop a comprehensive communication strategy.

In the previous administration, Dan Grayton held the position of executive secretary but also worked as communications director for Mayor Ken Gray and was paid a yearly salary of $53,250 for fiscal 2020.

But Gove hired Alyssa Premo to fill the position of executive assistant at the same salary earlier this month and told the council Tuesday night she wants to see someone dedicated to improving communication.

"I would argue that the previous administration had approximately a half-time position dedicated to communication and we are not happy with the work that is being done," Gove said. "So, we are asking for a full-time position to be dedicated to communication on behalf of the entire city."

Gove said she intends to base the communications director out of her office, where that person would focus "on messaging and strategy."

The new hire would also coordinate with all city departments – other than the schools, that fall under the superintendent – as well as manage and maintain content on Amesbury's website and social media pages.

"We could have this person live tweeting from meetings," Gove said. "They could submit summaries via blog posting. They could simply make sure that the Amesbury Community Television link at a meeting is available through the website and that those two things are talking to each other."

Gove told the council that since the communications director position is not listed in the fiscal 2020 operating budget, the roughly $54,000 salary would be funded through the city's general fund.

"We would like to fill this position as soon as possible so the funding would come from the reserve account which is in the general fund budget, approved at $250,000," Gove said.

Chief Financial Officer Angel Wills appeared before the council Tuesday night to further explain the proposal.

"It would be nice to fund it at 100%, but our free cash is significantly lower then it has been in years past," Wills said. "If we cannot fully fund it, the statute allows us to raise it, appropriate it and fund it on our next year's recap. We could then use our free cash for any other emergencies that come up between now and June."

Council President Matt Einson voiced concern that funding the new position would only leave the general fund with $1,292 until the next fiscal year begins in July.

"I have been in communication with department heads to advise them, if they will need money, they will need to let me know as soon as possible so that we can work toward a solution," Wills said. "I don't want to be surprised in June with any unnecessary appropriations or emergencies. They have been really good at keeping me informed and letting me know where there are potential appropriation turnbacks as well as where some appropriation may be needed."

Wills said the $1,292 estimated surplus also accounts for fully funding the Public Works Department's snow and ice budget, which fluctuates each year based on winter weather and the city may not have to pay this year's full estimated $600,000 allocation.

District 5 Councilor Tim Kisieleski was absent and District 6 Councilor Rick Marggraf cast the dissenting vote when the measure was approved 7-1. 

"I would rather wait until June with a new fiscal year budget," Marggraf said.

District 1 Councilor Pam Gilday voiced her support for the new position.

"Communications was something that we talked a lot about during the campaign," Gilday said. "I am grateful that is getting started. Meetings are being posted (on the city calendar) now without an agenda. So, residents can look ahead for meetings they want to attend or tune into."

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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