Hunt’s new job not uncommon

Published 10:28 pm Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A recently added position in the city manager’s office is new to Suffolk, but a survey of neighboring jurisdictions found it’s not so unusual, after all.

Sherry Hunt, the former chief of staff and then interim special projects manager, received the permanent title of intergovernmental affairs and special projects manager last week.

The position, which pays a salary of $115,360, is responsible for coordinating relations with federal, state and regional officials, overseeing the city’s electronic records management program, managing special projects assigned by the city manager and coordinating the city’s pursuit of grants from local, state and federal governments and private foundations.

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The position includes some duties Hunt was performing before, as well as some expanded and additional duties, said city spokeswoman Debbie George, the new chief of staff.

George said creating a position to handle intergovernmental affairs will actually save the city money. In past years, the city hired a company at a cost of $50,000 to lobby the General Assembly on its behalf, while Hunt still handled such duties as reporting on the status of the bills the city was watching to City Council. Now, she will handle both sides of the process.

Other cities in Hampton Roads have positions dedicated solely to intergovernmental affairs. Norfolk has an entire department for such work.

“Local governments are creatures of the state,” said Bryan Pennington, the director of that Norfolk department. “About 40 percent or more (of cities’ funding) is derived from state funding. If you’re not paying attention, you can quickly find that you’ve lost millions of dollars in funding.”

Pennington said having a position dedicated to intergovernmental affairs can be beneficial. Working with regional, state and federal officials is a demanding job, he added.

“That’s a pretty wide universe, and it does take some effort to keep track of what’s going on,” he said.

Elsewhere locally, Portsmouth has several employees who handle different parts of Hunt’s new job, including a legislative liaison. In Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, the assistants to the city manager handle intergovernmental relations and assorted other duties. And Newport News has a management and legislative program analyst that handles some of the same duties included in Hunt’s new position.

Hunt said the records-management portion of her job also will be a demanding effort, particularly in the next several years, as the city transitions to a new city hall building. Various types of records in different departments must be kept for varying lengths of time under the Virginia Public Records Act.

“We have to make sure we’re accountable to that,” she said.

Yet another hat she will wear is applying for grants.

“Obviously, we go after grants every year, but there’s not a centralized effort,” she said. Her new duties will be to centralize the city’s grant efforts to help provide better services to citizens, she said.

Lest folks think the city manager’s office is becoming bloated, George pointed out that about 10 years ago, 19 full-time employees worked in the city manager’s office at a payroll of $1.4 million. Now, only eight work there and earn a combined $670,000.