Santa Monica Lookout
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City Hires New Communications Officer

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By Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

May 14, 2014 – Longtime Santa Monica resident Elizabeth Riel -- who has masterminded media campaigns for major political and social issues -- has been chosen as the City’s new Public Affairs and Communications Officer, City officials announced Tuesday.

Selected after a nationwide search that drew more than 200 applicants, Riel will take on some of the main duties of Deputy City Manager Kate Vernez, who retires in July.

Riel will make $155,784 a year to head the City’s public relations efforts, including overseeing the Public Information Team, Community Relations and CityTV when she officially joins the City on June 2.

"I am thrilled to be working on behalf of Santa Monica to engage, inform and empower residents and our community members,” Riel said in a statement. “Nothing affects people's lives more on a daily basis than their local government.”

Riel has worked as a communications and public affairs strategist with extensive experience directing high-profile national public education and communication campaigns, according to officials.

For the past decade, she was a principal at Armour Media in Santa Monica, where she was responsible for regional and national communications strategy on high-profile issues, including the groundbreaking federal lawsuit to overturn Proposition 8 in California.

She was also a driving force behind successful media campaigns for First 5 California, Students Matter, National Adoption Day and Santa Monica’s own Youth Wellbeing Report Card.

“As a longtime resident, I know first-hand how important communication, transparency and listening are to our citizens, and I am committed to making our communications vehicles more effective and user-friendly,” Riel said.

“I am also dedicated to ensuring that Santa Monica is recognized as a national leader in livability and innovation, and that our interests are well represented throughout the region and the state."

In this newly created position of Communications and Public Affairs Officer, Riel will oversee the Public Information Team, CityTV and Community Relations, which includes managing a yearly budget of approximately $2.2 million.

“She’s smart strategic and collaborative and I think she’ll be a very good addition to the city family working with the community,” said Vernez, who is retiring as the Deputy City Manager of Special Projects in July after 27 years with the City to spend more time with her family. (“Santa Monica’s Deputy City Manager to Retire this Summer,” March 5, 2014)

Riel was chosen after an extensive recruitment process that yielded 226 applications from public relations experts from all across the country, said City Manager Rod Gould.

After the field was narrowed,  a panel of City staff interviewed eight applicants, choosing  three finalists.

Riel’s intelligence and experience made her the top choice, Gould said.

"Elizabeth blends national communications and public affairs expertise with a deep understanding and commitment to Santa Monica as a result of raising her family, consulting and volunteering in our fair city,” Gould said. 

The City has not decided to appoint a new Deputy City Manager of Special Projects, but will instead divide Vernez’s responsibilities between Riel and other City Staff for the time being, Gould told the Lookout.

As an active member of the Santa Monica community for the past decade, Riel, who is the mother of three, has volunteered her time and expertise to many local non-profits, according to officials.

She holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor in Public Affairs from American University in Washington, D.C.

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