Government flacks are essential, and not just to disseminate information during emergencies like hurricanes or sewage spills. Good ones help journalists extract key, sometimes incriminating, public records from the bureaucratic maw. Whether they are called public-information officers, media-relations managers, or press agents, the best ones share some common traits: They are briskly efficient, and they understand the news business. Former Miami-Dade Communications Department director Mayco Villafaña set these standards for his staff. Anyone who observed the post-election insanity after the presidential vote witnessed Villafaña's Herculean effort to accommodate the media crush without letting that impede the important work of the elections department. As for Rhonda Barnett, she has never lost sight of the notion that public service means keeping the public interest foremost. Barnett always responds quickly and is never daunted by red tape. She also boasts a dream résumé: a master's degree in library science and a decade of experience as a television news producer in Boston and South Florida, picking up four Emmys along the way. Unfortunately politics and professionalism are uneasy bedfellows at county hall these days. Both Villafaña and Barnett were fired recently.
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