According to the agenda for today's city council meeting, council will be asked to increase the city's contract with O'Neill Dynamics by $2,500 for fiscal year 2017.
O'Neill Dynamics founder Justin O'Neill is working for the city as a special projects consultant. As such, O'Neill has provided a consistent public face for the city with an obvious presence on social media publicizing city events.
According to a staff report last year, O'Neill's time is billed at $37 hourly for all projects charged to the special projects account and the maximum budget allocation for the current year was $18,000.
O'Neill told the Daily Independent Tuesday that the contract increase request may be pulled and postponed to a later meeting due to a mistake in the amount requested.
The amount allocated for O'Neill's contract was originally $26,000 which was later reduced to $18,000, a difference of $8,000.
“I asked during the last City Org meeting for the entire $8,000 to be restored, but expected to use only an approximate $5,000. I referred to the $2,500 monthly amount (an additional $400 than the anticipated $2,100 billed for wiggle room), and I believe this got confused as my request. For this reason, and because I am unable to attend this weeks meeting in person, I have asked that the consent agenda item be moved to the May 17th meeting, when I can attend and the full amount needed can be addressed,” he wrote to the Daily Independent via email on Tuesday.
Since its inception, the contract between the city and O'Neill has been a controversy magnet, with outspoken and passionate commentators on both sides.
O’Neill also garnered much local attention when he facilitated a series of Timbisha Shoshone casino discussion town halls last year. While nearly everyone seemed to approve of the job he did running the events, some accused him of behaving improperly by “coaching” casino developer Nigel White in how to win over the public. In an extensive review of emails leading up to the events, however, the Daily Independent uncovered some bias but no “smoking gun” showing clear-cut wrongdoing by anyone.
In any case, every item involving O'Neill seems to generate intense public interest. This is not necessarily bad, given his job is generating public interest.
According to a staff report, the need for more funding was discussed during the April City Org committee meeting. The City Org committee has been tasked with supervising the contract between the city and O'Neill. The consent calendar item requests a minimum allocation of $2,500 into the Special Projects fund.
In December 2016, council voted four to one to add a public relations task order for O'Neill, to fall under the umbrella of his current contract. Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens was the no vote.
In response to questions from council, O'Neill presented a 16-item task list, which he described as “specific set of communications focused tasks.”
According to O'Neill's presentation, the task list included the following:
— Being active on social media, including posts on city projects, history, updates, history and opportunities;
— Helping to maintain a community calendar with a link on the city website;
— Implementing “coffee with council” twice a month;
— Conducting one public “temperature survey” monthly;
— Supporting a city Directory Page with links to other community pages;
— Creating separate websites “to roll out major city opportunities or issues” in collaboration with city staff;
— Marketing a text messaging system for community announcements;
— Doing a quarterly community survey; releasing weekly news releases of not more than 300 words each and “1 article per month to the Rocketeer II;”
— Posting and tweeting live from meetings;
— Collecting meeting input through social media; maintaining a “Good News Board” for city departments;
— Expediting a “Potential Branding Report” including ideas for new city logos, slogans, and focus groups;
— Maintaining project progress bars;
— Releasing a “Citizen Spotlight” story once a month;
— Holding an Open House once per quarter.
Of these, O'Neill has obviously maintained a successful presence on social media, publicizing city council meetings and other events. Judging by the Daily Independent's Facebook research, he has succeeded in engaging the younger dynamic in town and seems to have a good reputation amongst millennials. He has also successfully orchestrated three “Coffee with a Council member” events so far.
Progress on other projects is less clear. O'Neill told the Daily Independent Tuesday that his next items of focus will be working more with education, and continuing to work with city staff to develop more multi-faceted opportunities to use social media to inform the public about all manner of city events.
Adding to the confusion, at least in the public eye, is the fact that O'Neill recently relocated to San Diego. O'Neill, however, told the Daily Independent that he does not charge for his commute, does not charge for overhead and only bills hours worked so his place of residence is presumably a non-issue.
Council member Wallace Martin initially questioned O'Neill's contract, but later voted in favor of the public relations task order after, Martin said, his research indicated that O'Neill had a good reputation for work on other projects. Martin also volunteered to supervise and assist O'Neill going forward in December. Martin was unavailable for comment at press time Tuesday evening.
The Daily Independent will report more on this story as it unfolds.