Not because of the person who was hired in the position, but the fact that the Columbia County Board of Commissioners decided they even needed a public relations manager.
After all, the commission meetings are already brief enough. Commissioners are typically in and out of most meetings in less than hour compared to the Augusta Commission’s four-hour long meetings.
Did they really need to pay a public relations manager an annual salary of $46,606 (plus a car allowance of $8,625 a year and a cell phone allowance of $1,440 a year) to answer the media’s questions?
But, apparently, commissioners thought the position was necessary.
And, let’s be honest, the Metro Spirit’s first real encounter with the county’s new public relations manager wasn’t the most pleasant.
However, that wasn’t Cook’s fault. Not by a long shot.
Last summer, after Cook had only be in her position about two months, Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross and County Administrator Scott Johnson decided to make her do their dirty work.
When a Metro Spirit reporter approached both Cross and Johnson to discuss expenses involving a trip to New York City last June, the reporter was not allowed to ask either of them any direct questions.
Instead, Cook was told to handle the Metro Spirit’s questions.
And she did her job.
In response to the paper’s questions regarding the New York trip that cost Columbia County taxpayers more than $10,000, Johnson sent a very direct message through Cook.
“After consideration of your request to interview Mr. Johnson, we have chosen to decline,” Cook wrote last year. “Rather than simply giving you a brief answer, I will give you an explanation for our decision: Due to obvious preconceived notions in recent articles published in the Metro Spirit regarding Columbia County, it is in the county’s best interest to refrain from any interview that could be taken out of context to fill a story line. If this seems strongly put, we hope that previous articles thus far will help show why we feel this is the case.”
Here is the Insider’s interpretation of that statement: Buzz off. (Sniff, sniff. Boo hoo. Sniff.)
After not getting a real answer out of Johnson, a Metro Spirit reporter attempted to ask Cross direct questions regarding the New York trip following committee meetings at the Evans Government Center, but Cross refused to discuss the matter.
Instead, he also pointed to Cook.
“Any questions that you’ve got, give it to her and we’ll issue you a statement later on,” Cross said, as he quickly left the commission chamber.
As a result, Cook asked the Metro Spirit reporter to submit any questions regarding the trip directly to her via email.
“There is nothing that happened in New York,” Cook said. “They just feel like due to previous articles that there is basically a preconceived notion that something is wrong and it’s not. So they are not going to comment.”
So why were Cross and Johnson so annoyed by the Metro Spirit?
Well, the newspaper reported about a trip to Savannah in April 2015 that included Columbia County commissioners along with the county’s department directors and many of their spouses.
The purpose for the trip was a planning advance workshop with department heads, as well as training for commissioners at the 2015 Annual Conference of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.
The planning advance workshop was only about three hours long, but the night before the meeting, the majority of commissioners, department heads and many of their spouses dined out at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
Columbia County taxpayers picked up the $3,571 dinner tab that night.
The total for just the lodging in Savannah amounted to about $10,000.
As a result, taxpayers spent almost $14,000 on that one trip to Savannah.
When the Metro Spirit received the county’s credit card information, the newspaper reached out to Johnson for a comment, but Johnson was on a trip that week and he said he didn’t want to answer any questions over the phone.
Therefore, he couldn’t be interviewed for the story.
When the cover story on the Savannah trip was published, apparently Johnson didn’t appreciate it.
So, from that moment on, Cook was left to address any questions from the newspaper.
And the Insider will be the first to admit, Cook couldn’t have been more pleasant to the newspaper.
She was basically given the green light from Cross and Johnson to just “handle” us, but Cook was always polite and tried to be as helpful as possible.
She didn’t want a toxic relationship with anyone.
But Cook didn’t have to worry about dealing with the Metro Spirit. The media understands that she was just doing her job.
Unfortunately for Cook, that toxic relationship came from an entirely different source: Columbia County’s kingmaker himself, Ron Cross.
Those close to the situation say that Cross’s attitude made the position practically unbearable for Cook, especially since he would frequently treat her as his own personal secretary.
That’s why it wasn’t a huge surprise when word began to spread around Columbia County last week that Cook had resigned from the position.
She’d had enough.
Clearly, Cook is one smart cookie. She put up with a great deal over the past year and probably earned every penny the county paid her as its public relations manager.
Cook will easily move on to bigger and better things.
As for Columbia County, commissioners may want to rethink its public relations position.
Do they really believe Columbia County needs a public relations manager? If so, is the position worth more than $50,000 a year?
What do taxpayers in Columbia County think about spending that kind of money? Is the position worth it?
And if the county decides to fill Cook’s public relations position, isn’t it about time to actually establish an official job description with some qualification requirements?
Should the new hire have a bachelor’s degree? Should they have any previous public relations experience?
When Cook was chosen for the job, she was the administrative coordinator for Columbia County’s Rental Facilities and Venues Department at time.
Some people might also know her as the co-host and co-creator of Columbia County’s Amateur Series that was held at the Columbia County Amphitheater.
The next thing people knew, Cook was hired for the new public relations job.
The county didn’t even advertise the new position to the public or current county employees.
In fact, according to the county’s human resources department, there were no other applicants for the public relations job. The human resources department didn’t even have a copy of Cook’s resume on file.
Some county employees were apparently very surprised that Cook was hired as the new public relations manager because she didn’t have tons of experience.
Even more surprising was the fact that her entire annual pay was $56,671.
For Cook to walk away from that gig, Cross must have been a nightmare.
Needless to say, if the county commissioners want to hire a new public relations manager and keep that person in the role for long, they should tell Cross to let the person do their job and leave them the hell alone.