A public information officer is the city of Grain Valley’s most critical need, the city administrator said.

During a budget workshop that stretched late on Monday night, Gary Bradley emphasized the need for a public information officer to the Grain Valley Board of Aldermen.

“I would still maintain that’s one of our biggest weaknesses – communicating with the public,” Bradley said.

Mike Todd, Ward 2 alderman, said the No. 1 complaint he receives is about the city’s lack of communication with the public. Todd said a public information officer could have facilitated conversations with residents who recently called the city, concerned about increases in their water bills.

Bradley said he would like someone with experience in marketing and public relations to fill the position. The public information officer would distribute press releases, develop newsletters and help with economic development plans, he said.

In the proposed 2009 budget, Grain Valley has allocated a $40,000 annual salary for the position.

The proposal of a public information officer received mixed feedback from aldermen. Terry Beebe, Ward 1 alderman, said she does not support the position.

Dale Arnold, Ward 1 alderman, said he is “in between” on the matter.

“Are we big enough for it yet?” Arnold asked.

“Maybe it would benefit us to stay ahead of the curve for once,” Mayor David Halphin replied.

Arnold said he would feel better about the public information officer position if he could read the position’s job description. Bradley said he would develop a job description. 

The board also discussed salary increases among five city positions. Todd asked whether the board should develop a standard amount for salary increases, with subsequent department heads’ justification.

Headley said he understands that the board requested department heads to justify salary increases.

“It’s hard for us to know,” Headley said. “Who deserves it more? I don’t know.”

With all city employee salary increases in 2009, the board had approved a 2 percent cost-of-living allowance and an additional 2.5 percent increase for merit. Requested increases that totaled more than 4.5 percent had to receive justification before the board.

Arnold said the public works department should utilize its merit pay to help increase the salaries over time. Bradley said he didn’t support using merit pay to increase salaries “to where they should be.”

Board members discussed the justification for salary increases in five city positions – assistant police chief, building inspector and three, maintenance positions.

The board decided to allow Bradley discretion in deciding the pay increases for the five positions.

Budget discussions will continue during the next several weeks before the board’s final approval.