Bozeman City Hall

A look at Bozeman City Hall on Rouse Avenue.

Bozeman officials are carving out a new role for someone to act as City Hall’s voice by managing how information goes to the public.

The city is advertising to hire its first communications coordinator, someone charged with delivering Bozeman’s communication needs, from making sure department messages are clear and consistent to announcing major changes and responding to the media.

The job will pay between $54,655 and $64,300 a year, according the city’s advertisement. As of 2016, the national median pay for public relations specialists was roughly $58,000 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Mayor Cyndy Andrus said the role is in part a response to Bozeman’s continued population rise.

“People want more information and to know what’s going on,” she said. “This is another way for us to increase the frequency that we’re able to communicate and broaden the ways we’re able to communicate.”

Jeremy Johnson, a political science professor at Carroll College, said more small-to-medium cities are hiring public affairs employees.

“Governments at all levels are interested in protecting their reputation, being able to rapidly respond to the media, which is more important than ever because of the 24-hour news cycle,” he said.

Plus, he said local government actions can turn contentious especially as major policies unfold.

“There are political reasons to have a communications [coordinator] to help sell to the public decisions made by officials,” Johnson said.

He said the downside of the role is it typically means increasing the size of governmental payroll.

The position is something city commissioners budgeted for this year’s spending, money that freed up in January. Commissioners said they’re attempting to get ahead of a few Strategic Plan priorities by including the full-time position. That plan — a first for Bozeman — is in draft now and will set a timeline for big-dollar projects and efforts that change current status quos.

Whoever fills the role will answer to City Manager Andrea Surratt. She said since the position is new, the employee will help develop what the city’s communications policy looks like, stepping outside of a typical 8-to-5 job.

“Someone who is excited to be a representative face, for lack of a better word, to the community,” Surratt said. “Attending a lot of events, posting great things happening. I see it as an outreach position.”

Surratt said the person will keep locals informed via social media, through traditional press releases and shape new avenues to get news out. If an emergency happens — like the 2009 gas explosion — the coordinator will be the person answering calls from the media and updating residents, Surratt said.

She said there’s still some uncertainty around how the communications coordinator and the media will interact. When asked whether city staff will still be available for interviews, Surratt said, “We’d probably keep it at a supervisor level.”

“We don’t need just any worker being the person that speaks to the cameras; that’s not really their role,” she said.

Surratt said local government policies vary on how to work with news organizations, and Bozeman officials will have to figure out what works best as the city — and its load of news — grows.

The search to fill the position is national. If officials get applicants they like, Surratt said they could fill the job by April.

The new role follows several new key players landing in Bozeman’s local government scene, including Surratt who became the city’s new manager in October. Last month the city also announced the hire of its first affordable housing manager, Matt Madsen.

Surratt said longtime staff paired with a wave of new arrivals is a good thing — it means there’s a combo of people with institutional knowledge and those with lessons from other cities.

“It’s reflective of Bozeman too,” she said. “It’s a community of lots of folks who have recently come here and those who have stayed because it’s wonderful.”

That trend, she said, is part of the reason more roles are coming to town.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at or at 406-582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

Katheryn Houghton is the city government reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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