District 7 Public Affairs and Media Relations
The voice and face of the district.
Public Information Officers’ (PIOs) and Public Affairs Officers’ (PAOs) duties are almost indistinguishable from one another, but they work as an efficient team to educate and inform the public and stakeholders, and manage Caltrans’ image. Whether developing public outreach campaigns, attending construction meetings, working with local representatives, hosting international visitors, organizing ground breakings or grand openings, or working with the media, this unit is ready. willing and able..
It's 10 a.m. on what appeared to be a slow day at the office. The phone rings and it’s a Los Angeles Times reporter who wants to know how much Caltrans has spent on right-of-way purchases for the I-405 Improvement Project. Another reporter is accusing the department of hiding information about stolen palm trees. On another day, a fuel tanker catches fire under an overcrossing in Montebello, requiring the closure of the Pomona Freeway (SR-60) from I-710 to I-605. There are dozens of reporters on scene who need to talk to someone from Caltrans. Who will speak to the reporters and prepare executive staff for media interviews? It is District 7’s PIOs who are ready and trained to handle such requests. If you receive a media call, don’t worry or feel pressured; just forward the reporter to Media Relations (it’s not only a good idea, it is Caltrans Deputy Directive-19-R2).
“Working with the media takes skill, patience, and tact to be able to gather information, help reporters fulfill their requests, and ensure that Caltrans is represented well,” said Media Relations and Public Affairs Office Chief Lauren Wonder, a 12-year Caltrans employee. “Speaking in front of the camera, writing talking points or speeches, or working with the very aggressive Los Angeles media market is challenging and exciting, but it isn’t for everyone.”
Throughout the week various media inquiries may occur, some complex or simple, and the PIOs will seek out information from any division or individual. Also, PIOs Kelly Markham, Judy Gish, Maria Raptis, and I write Inside 7, so you may hear from us if we are writing a story about a project, your division, or you.
Although they do not generally interact with the media, much like PIOs, they work closely with construction and project management staff on pending and active projects throughout the district.
“Working directly with the public is a challenging but satisfying part of a PAOs job,” said Public Affairs Manager Dave White. “Trying to manage the demands of the public and local representatives requires a high level of diplomacy and perseverance.”
For instance, PAO Yessica Jovel regularly attends construction meetings for the I-10/I-605 Interchange Improvement Project in Baldwin Park. PAO Peter Jones meets with project staff for the I-10/I-110 Interchange Improvement Project. PAOs much like PIOs plan project ground breakings or openings. Both PAOs are essential in the department’s efforts to keep motorists, residents, media outlets, and local representatives aware of what Caltrans activities are occurring in communities throughout the district.
Occasionally a PAO will step into the PIO role to help out.
Jovel, who is a fluent Spanish speaker, has handled several media interviews with local Spanish language channels. Jovel has used her language skills to extend the department’s outreach about our Slow For Cone Zone and Move Over safety campaigns, and Workers’ Memorial.
Jones has not had the opportunity to be interviewed on camera, but he has used his cultural skills to represent Caltrans well during visits by guests from around the world at the Los Angeles Regional Traffic Management Center. Most recently Jones spoke to group from the United Arab Emirates.
Jovel and Jones head up our outreach and education program. Jovel has organized school visits by our maintenance crews and rideshare fairs at several corporations, cities, and colleges in Los Angeles. Jones, although relatively new to the unit, coordinates the annual Highway Safety Poster Contest.
“PIOs and PAOs are a team that works to ensure that the public and our stakeholders are aware of the positive work that our employees perform daily,” said Wonder. “It’s all about teamwork.”