By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa is trying to improve the way it supports community groups with a newly filled job in the city manager’s office.
Georgia Pedgrift, formerly coordinator of the police department’s graffiti abatement, now is the city’s community engagement coordinator.
Pedgrift, 32, was hired in October and has been reaching out to neighborhood associations, volunteer groups and faith-based organizations in an effort to build relationships with them.
“The new program we are launching is aimed at helping residents organize, supporting neighborhood projects, encouraging volunteerism and providing a conduit for civic participation,” Pedgrift wrote in an email to local groups.
She has created a Facebook page containing photographs of volunteers cleaning up parks, painting murals and promoting the work of the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force.
Pedgrift was “tenacious” in her previous role of helping neighborhoods combat graffiti, said Tanya Narath, chairwoman of the Community Advisory Board. “We expect great things from her in her new post,” she said.
Pedgrift was hired in response to budget cuts earlier this year that eliminated a deputy director of community services position held by long-time city employee Ed Buonaccorsi. That post handled a range of duties, including being a liaison to neighborhood groups, coordinating the city’s volunteer programs, and working with the city’s Community Advisory Board.
Several years of budget cuts left Buonaccorsi a one-man department, and his position — including its $130,000 salary — was eliminated from the current budget.
City Manager Kathy Millison promised to create a new position in her department that would handle many of the same tasks. She also noted that it made more sense for the 14-member Community Advisory Board — created to give community-wide feedback to the City Council — to be staffed by someone in her office.
Buonaccorsi was rehired by the city a month later to be the “emergency preparedness coordinator” for the Santa Rosa Fire Department, a one-year position making $87,000, he said. Pedgrift is making $67,000. Her previous position has not been filled.
Her role will be broader than Buonaccorsi’s, Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips said. “We’re trying to step it up one step and have a real coordinated program,” Phillips said.
Pedgrift said she had been impressed with the level of commitment and engagement of many of the city’s volunteers and neighborhood groups, and hopes to reach out to new community leaders, as well.
“I think to have a really engaged program there’s a trust-building phase that has to happen,” Pedgrift said.
Lea Barron-Thomas, president of the West End Neighborhood Association, said she’s encouraged that Pedgrift will be working out of the city manager’s office, which she said is a sign the program has a high priority.
“It’s my hope that it’s a true attempt, on the city’s part, to really make a connection to the neighborhoods,” Barron-Thomas said.