For the last 13 years, Tompkins County has been relying on one woman to relay the happenings of the county government meetings and events to them, outlasting virtually any journalist assigned to the area. Marcia Lynch has served as the Public Information Officer for Tompkins County since 2006 and through that role, she’s encouraged the public to engage in and learn about county-wide issues and programs. She sat down for an interview about her time working with the Tompkins County government and her role as one of the public voices of the county. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Ithaca Times: How did you get started as the Public Information Officer?
Marcia Lynch: I applied for that position and I was selected. Let me give you some context, back when I was working for the Ithaca Fire Department (IFD), which I did for 13 years, most of that time as Volunteer Coordinator. There was a public information officer team, which my predecessor established, which still exists. I was a member of that team so I’d had ongoing contact with county government.
The position was established sometime in the early to mid-90s. I think it was like 1992 or ‘93. Since that time, three people have held that position of which I'm obviously the third. One of the things I've always thought, when I took this position, that in terms of everything I’ve done, it kind of brought my career full circle. I started out, of course, as a broadcast journalist, and administrator in this in this community, which I did for 10 years, and then delved into various aspects of public relations, various venues, community programs and so forth.
IT: What have been some of the challenges in being the PIO for the county?
ML: There are an incredible number of meetings and issues that you have to know about. This position has involved essentially being on call 24/7, for any emergencies that arise situations that have to be dealt with.
IT: What have been some of your favorite parts of your job?
ML: Working with all the good people and departments in the county government, helping them communicate their message, communicating the county's message on various issues, and informing the public. That's the reason why this program exists, to inform residents about their county government and work through that knowledge to involve the community in decision making by the legislature.
IT: What do you plan on doing in your retirement?
I'm going to remain very involved in this community. I've had dear friends say to me, ‘You're going to have every nonprofit organization swooping down upon you’. And a decision I've made is to just to continue doing what I'm doing in terms of my community involvement. And then I will consider where I'm going to go after that, after the first quarter of the year. But, I intend to remain very active and involved in serving this community in whatever way I can. Because that, that's been I think, a common thread of all of my professional career. It is what I find to be the most rewarding and how I can best serve.
IT: What are some parts of the public information officer job that you feel you added to the post?
ML: I think that had a very strong focus, and of course working with our county's public information advisory board in trying to build a sense of what their county government is, and to help to build a sense of community engagement through everything we've done. Part of that is being engaged in an active community outreach program over the past several years where the county government was out there in terms of events and activities.
One thing was the Ithaca Festival parade and people said, ‘Why are you in the Ithaca Festival parade,’ which was actually suggested by one of our former legislators, Will Burbank. We kind of took it and ran with it. But, I think people, by and large, don't have a good sense of what county government is. And they often say, well, they know what city government is, they live in the city, but they have no real sense often what county government does, and the complexity of the programs.
In the county, there are 27 different departments and it's very diverse. Programs and departments within county government kind of have had their own identities and maybe in the public's mind, they think, “We know about the health department, we know about social services, we know, the highway department problems, our roads and fixes our roads.’ But, people have not typically had any sense of how all those pieces meld into the whole of county government, and what it does and how it serves the community.
Over the past several years, we have really tried to build an understanding of that to say, here's your county government, here's who we are and what we do. And also the county government is not this big, amorphous bureaucratic entity. But, it's made up of a lot of dedicated people who are providing service to you the Tompkins County resident.
So that's something that we have built that was not in the job description of the public information officer. But that's something that we and again, I working closely with public information vice report, which is an advisor for the legislature thought was was very important. And I think we've achieved a lot there.