After years of debate over creating the position, and months of looking for the right person to fill it, Guilford County has finally chosen a public relations specialist dedicated to handling the press, interacting with the public, making announcements for Guilford County – and, more generally, putting a positive spin on county actions and missteps.
For that challenging job, Guilford County has selected Worley Smith. The county hired Smith away from the City of High Point, where he was serving as a communications specialist in the Communications & Public Engagement department.
In his new position with Guilford County, Smith will have the same title – “communications specialist” – but he’ll have broader duties than he did at his previous job.
Smith will work in the Guilford County clerk to the board’s office under Clerk to the Board Robin Keller at a starting salary of $60,000 a year.
Worley said he’s delighted about the new opportunity and that he’s eager to explore ways for the county to enhance its communication with the public.
“This is an opportunity to advance my career and, also, I am moving closer to home,” said Worley, who lives in Greensboro but has commuted to High Point for the last two years.
He said Guilford County’s social media efforts will be one point of emphasis for him.
“There is an opportunity to brush up on social media,” Worley said.
He also said that, so far, he has only had time to go through orientation and get situated.
“I’m trying to get a feel for the office,” he said.
He added that he was now doing the sorts of things that any new employee must do first, like making sure email is working and learning his way around.
Smith, who was born in Wendell, North Carolina, near Raleigh, earned his bachelor of science degree from East Carolina University. In 2007, he went to work for the City of Greensboro where he was a producer for the city’s Channel 13 broadcasts. After eight years with Greensboro, he took a job with the High Point public relations department.
High Point Communications & Public Engagement Director Jeron Hollis said that Smith was a major asset to that city and made big contributions while he worked there.
“He was here almost two years and he provided a great service to us,” Hollis said.
Hollis said Smith played “a key role” in developing and expanding High Point’s video and television efforts.
He said it’s hard to see Smith go but it will clearly be a step up in his career.
“I was happy for him,” Hollis said of Smith finding the new job even though Hollis now has to fill the vacant position in High Point.
“It’s a part of the business,” he said. “As long as they don’t take them out in a stretcher or a police car, it’s a good thing.”
Smith didn’t take off any time between jobs: He was working for High Point until his first day with Guilford County – Monday, Oct. 16.
Many people don’t envy Smith and his new job; making Guilford County government look good isn’t always easy.
For about four years, the Guilford County commissioners resisted Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing’s effort to get a full-time public relations specialist, even though most major counties in the state have had one for years.
One thing that helped change the commissioners’ minds was a negative television news story on the animal shelter at the start of 2017 that the county said was false. Commissioners at a governing retreat in early 2017 held that event up as an example of the need for a county employee devoted to helping get the county’s side of the story in the media.
County officials constantly maintain that there’s a great deal of good going on with Guilford County government that doesn’t get enough exposure, things like more online access to county services, special programs from the Register of Deed’s office, expanded services such as the Family Justice Center, a major reduction in the county’s debt over the past four years while property taxes were reduced. County officials say those positive things constantly get overshadowed by stories such as those about the ongoing problems in the county’s Animal Services department.
According to the job description for Smith’s position, the county’s communications specialist “writes and edits newsletters, news releases, annual reports, website postings and related event and presentation materials.”
The description also states that the “Work involves preparing content for social media sites, preparing press releases, and ways the County can be positively positioned and portrayed in traditional and social media.”
Smith could also be called on to help put together bond referendum materials in the future, and create mailing inserts and budget-related documents.
He will become the point man when it comes to public records requests from media and citizens. County officials say that staff has been overwhelmed over the past year by many time consuming public records request, especially those regarding the Guilford County Animal Shelter.
County citizens should also anticipate new public relations programs from Guilford County. The job description states that the person hired must have “initiative, imagination and independent judgment to develop and implement programs.”
Currently, Guilford County doesn’t send out many news releases except those that come out the Sheriff’s Department when dangerous criminals are on the loose or when the department has made a major drug bust – something that doesn’t really improve the county’s image in the eyes of those who might want to move here or open a business in the county.
The county’s communication efforts need work. Just to take one example, the county is supposed to post videos of the commissioners meetings on the county’s website after the meetings, but it has fallen woefully behind: It hasn’t posted a video of a commissioners meeting since early June.