Belleville

Belleville wants to boost city’s image with new public relations position

In an effort to promote Belleville’s “image and branding,” the city has created a new position for a public relations and communications specialist who will start on Monday.

Jennifer Ferguson, who most recently served as director of campus communications and marketing for Lindenwood University-Belleville, was hired for the city’s new P.R. job.

“We’ve got a lot of good things going here and we need to highlight that, we need to shine our light on it and that’s what my role is going to be able to do,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson’s position was approved by the City Council by an 11-4 vote. The position has an annual salary of $52,000 and was not an advertised civil service job. Instead, it was an appointment by Mayor Mark Eckert.

“I want to make sure that we’re getting the story out about Belleville and about all the projects going on and about reaching out to potential new businesses,” Eckert said.

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Jennifer Ferguson is Belleville’s new public relations and communication specialist. Derik Holtmann dholtmann@bnd.com

The public relations specialist “develops and maintains the city’s image and branding through social media and all methods of communication to further city growth,” according to the job description.

Other duties for the position include working to improve economic development and encourage people to buy homes in Belleville.

Ferguson also will be asked to represent the city at events that Eckert cannot attend and to assist Eckert and other employees with maintaining the city’s relationship with Scott Air Force Base.

“We need to go after the young millenials and professionals and do a little bit more of a serious marketing pitch to this group of people and to get them to come bring their young families and couples here because I think that, you know, we kind of sometimes are missing the boat in being aggressive along those fronts,” Eckert said.

And Ferguson said she will be “highlighting and elevating what we do so that we can get a fair snapshot of the city of Belleville, what it’s like to be a resident here, what it’s like to own a business here, what it’s like to potentially develop something here.”

City Council vote

Here are the council members who voted for the public relations position: Joe Hazel in Ward 1; Carmen Duco and Jane Pusa in Ward 2; Scott Ferguson in Ward 3; Johnnie Anthony and Raffi Ovian in Ward 4; ‘Shelly’ Schaefer in Ward 5; Mary G. Stiehl in Ward 6; Phil Elmore and Dennis Weygandt in Ward 7; and Roger Wigginton in Ward 8.

Ken Kinsella of Ward 1 was absent for the vote. Also, Scott Ferguson is not related to Jennifer Ferguson.

Four aldermen voted against Eckert’s recommendation: Kent Randle of Ward 3; Ed Dintelman of Ward 5; Chris Rothweiler of Ward 6; and Roger Barfield of Ward 8.

Randle and Dintelman said they voted against the plan for similar reasons. They both said they didn’t have a problem with Ferguson personally.

“That vote was not personal, it was about the process,” Randle said.

“It just seemed like it was thrust upon the council without any consultation whatsoever,” he said.

Dintelman said he did not want to “push something through” without getting a chance to meet Ferguson beforehand.

Rothweiler also said he did not have a problem with Ferguson.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

Why did we report this story?

We wanted to give Belleville residents information about Mayor Mark Eckert’s appointment of Jennifer Ferguson to the newly created position of public relations and communications specialist. Ferguson’s salary is $52,000. For more information about salaries for public employees in the region, go to the News-Democrat’s public pay database at bnd.com.

“That’s not the issue,” he said. “My issue is this: During my campaign, I believed and I still believe we need a full-time, 100 percent economic development director focused on developing business.”

Rothweiler, who was elected in April, has criticized Eckert not replacing the city’s housing director and instead giving some of those duties to Annissa McCaskill, who was the director of Economic Development, Planning & Zoning Department.

Eckert said one of the reasons why the city can afford to pay for Ferguson’s position is because the housing director’s position was not filled. Also, the city did not fill the parks and recreation department director’s position and instead gave extra duties to the public works director.

Barfield could not be reached for comment.

Ferguson’s career

Before joining Lindenwood in 2016, Ferguson worked in public relations for Central School District in O’Fallon and Lake Land College in her hometown of Mattoon.

Lindenwood is ending it daytime class program next spring and as part of its restructuring in Belleville, the school laid off Ferguson on Sept. 13.

“I believe that the roles I’ve held formerly have certainly prepared me for taking this on with the city,” she said.

With the city, she said one of her first assignments will be to get the word out about the 2020 Census because the city wants to make sure every resident is counted since federal funds are allocated to the city based on its population.

“Nothing is going to be done in a silo,” she said. “I’m going to be working collaboratively across all departments within the city.”

Although she grew up in Mattoon, Ferguson said she has visited Belleville all her life because her cousins were raised in Belleville.

Ferguson, who bought a home in Belleville last year, said she likes the “affordable” homes in the city and that you can get a home near downtown like she did and walk to festivals in what she called “a great city.”

Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and grew up in St. Louis.
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