Janssen's pick for top communicator is mum for now
Two weeks ago, David Cook was the Pinellas school district’s media savvy TV station manager, a six-year veteran whose industry experience made him superintendent Julie Janssen’s top choice to lead the schools’ revamped communication efforts with the public and media. But the ex-WFLA-Ch. 8 sports producer has been anything but open to interview requests for a profile since Janssen’s selection method came into question at the school board’s last meeting.
Citing the suggestions of a “couple people” he’s consulted, Cook has turned down all interviews for a profile until Aug. 9, when the board must decide whether to approve him for the newly created role of chief communications officer. “I don’t want to come across as this is in the bag,” he said.
Cook, erring on the side of not “preempting” the board’s vote, said he was “on the fence” before he consulted Janssen and her deputy, Jim Madden, who agreed that a more conservative approach to media requests was best.
“After speaking with a couple of people about this subject, we all are in agreement that it would be best to wait until after the August 9th School Board meeting to do anything,” he wrote in an email. “ I will be willing to do anything after that date.”
His decision to wait comes after board members Robin Wikle and Lew Williams expressed concern with Janssen’s handling of a $23,624 communications audit’s suggestions for the district.
The assessment urged the district to hire a single official to lead all communication efforts, among other reforms. But when it came time to implement those reforms, some members said Janssen substantiated the very concerns she tried to smooth over with the assessment.
Neither Cook’s position nor any others in the reorganized office were advertised, a point Janssen defended by saying, “We felt that we had the talent present in our organization.”
Wikle said Janssen’s process was “flip-flopped,” as she selected Cook before job descriptions or even salaries were finalized.
She also questioned the message a new position — and pay increase of about $7,000, according to Cook — sends to an instructional staff whose salaries have been frozen.
Janssen said the salary reflected a promotion and would have been paid to an external candidate, someone from the outside who Williams said he might have liked to see considered.
“I would have done it differently,” he said, adding that the move would not have a significant effect on his review of Janssen next month.
“I would have interviewed. I would have posted it.”
- C. Ryan Barber, Times Staff Writer