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DeGeorge named point person for both city, Police Department

The man who has served as interim spokesman for Mayor Byron W. Brown since March has been appointed to the $91,374 job on a permanent basis and will oversee a restructured communications office.

But the mayor's plan to combine communications functions and have Michael J. DeGeorge serve as the media point person for both City Hall and the Police Department is raising concerns among some Common Council members.

David A. Rivera, a retired city detective who serves as the Niagara District representative, said he's convinced that city law enforcement should have a separate spokesperson.

"The Police Department should be buffered from any type of political interference," Rivera said. "We can't even afford to have the perception that there might be political interference, or that the whole story won't get out."

Rivera said there have been numerous instances in recent years that highlighted the importance of having a separate spokesman for police matters.

He said one high-profile example occurred in 2007, when the mayor's son, then 16, took the family SUV for a neighborhood drive that ended with him ramming three parked vehicles. The mayor first insisted that his son was not involved and that the SUV had been stolen. He later retracted that claim after his son admitted his role in the incident, which was caught on a surveillance camera not owned by the city.

The Police Department needs its own spokesperson, said Rivera.

Brown believes the change will improve operations.

"We feel it's a better way to meet the communications needs of the city, its various departments and the public," Brown said.

The changes were foreshadowed during the city budget process that wrapped up in June. But DeGeorge's permanent appointment was made official this week when the mayor's office submitted it to the Council for routine acceptance at a September meeting.

DeGeorge's title is director of communications and intergovernmental relations. The Council cannot block the mayor's appointment of DeGeorge to the exempt position.

DeGeorge will oversee a three-person office that will include an $80,971-a-year assistant communications director, a position that has yet to be filled. The office is also staffed by Kelsey Hanks, an aide who handles a number of media-related tasks.