Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo speaks Monday in a video message
Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo speaks Monday in a video message about the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Courtesy photo)

Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo launched the first of five “State of the City” video messages on Monday, in an effort to share how the city is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anthony Wagner, the spokesman and public engagement manager for the police department, has moved his office to City Hall to lead the marketing effort.

Before he came to Santa Barbara in 2017, Wagner worked in various public relations and community outreach positions in San Diego, including as a senior policy and media strategist for the Institute for Public Strategies. 

City Administrator Paul Casey said Wagner is on loan from the police department and that his skill set will be essential to helping the city communicate its work to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Chief (Lori) Luhnow and I were brainstorming, and recognizing the need in my office to respond to this once -in-a-generation issue,” Casey told Noozhawk. 

Casey said Wagner is still doing “double-duty” in the police department, but that in some cases, other police department staff members will backfill his duties. Wagner has a total compensation package of about $190,000.

The video messages are part of an overall strategy by the city to reach constituents directly, and comes at a time when the business community has voiced frustration with what they perceive as a lack of leadership advocating for businesses during the stay-at-home order.

Even when Murillo jumped to form a business advisory task force, some people criticized her for the panel choices and for not discussing the issue in public before forming it.

”The pandemic has created an environment where the public needs information and our municipal government wants to provide information,” Murillo said.

“Especially now that the city is focusing on economic recovery, there are updates we want the public to have. I’m grateful the police department is able to let us borrow Mr. Wagner to help us connect with the public.

“He is skilled in various media, and many people are home looking for news, so they will be able to find more information about the city’s pandemic response.”

Santa Barbara Police Department spokesman Anthony Wagner

Santa Barbara Police Department spokesman Anthony Wagner is temporarily reassigned to lead the city’s COVID-19-related public information campaign, including video messages from the mayor.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk file photo)

The city skipped this year’s annual State of the City event, so the episodic mayoral messages are intended to replace that one-time format with messages that change based on the situation in real time.

Murillo’s first 12-minute video message was posted Monday afternoon, and can be watched online here. 

“We find ourselves in a time of great uncertainty, both here and nationwide,” Murillo said in the message, which was filmed in her City Hall office.

“Our local economy, heavily dependent on hospitality, is against the ropes. Here at home, optimism seems distant. We ask ourselves, how can we get back to what was once normal — while we struggle to forecast a reliable future?”

Mayor Pro Tempore Kristen Sneddon said Wagner’s new assignments are needed.

“Especially during times of disaster, the public is seeking timely, reliable information, and we need to be pushing this information out often and in as many formats possible,” Sneddon said. “Mr. Wagner will help us increase this messaging outward to meet the justified demands of the public. I am thankful for his help in this.”

The text of the mayor’s speech will be translated into Spanish in the city’s press releases, and there will be a Spanish-language scroll on the mayor’s video messages, Wagner said.

This first message will be interpreted and recited in its entirety in Spanish on Radio Bronco FM 107.7 and La Musical FM 94.5 at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday. 

Santa Barbara does not have a dedicated public information officer, as some other local cities do. 

Other cities have also been posting video messages from mayors and other leaders, and the City of Goleta posted a new one on Monday from Mayor Paula Perotte which is available to watch online here. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.