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St. Paul Police turn to former cops reporter Howie Padilla as their spokesman

Howie Padilla, a former newspaperman who once covered the St. Paul Police Department, is now on the other side of the question-and-answer firing line.

Padilla is the SPPD’s new public information coordinator, handling media inquiries as well as some internal communications and relations between the department and the community. John Keating, a sworn St. Paul officer, also works on communications issues.

Padilla covered public safety issues for seven years as a reporter for the Star Tribune, including several years working out of the Strib’s St. Paul Bureau in downtown St. Paul (where I was stationed for 21 years).

Padilla left the paper four years ago and had a stint as a public information officer for the St. Paul School District.

But now he’s back at the cop shop, where he’s always seemed very comfortable.

“Some of my friends in the media wonder if it’s hard to be on the other side, but it’s not,” Padilla said. “My job is to look at issues through the lens of a reporter, to see what the reporters need and figure out what we can do to help them get the story.”

With most news operations cutting back on staff, beat reporters often don’t have the luxury to spend all day with sources, bugging them and picking up story tips, the way they did when Padilla covered cops.

“We know that media organizations aren’t flush with resources, either, so we work to help them accurately and responsibly cover the stories about us and to get the message out to the public,” he said. “You don’t want to go get too cozy with them, though; you need to have a professional relationship that is mutually beneficial.”

Did reporters, say, for the Pioneer Press ever worry that you are going to give a scoop to your old pals at the Strib?

“When I first started at the schools, there seemed to be some concerns, and I had conversations with some other organizations about that. And you can check with my former colleagues at the paper and they’ll assure you that [parceling out scoops to friends] doesn’t ever happen. And as time goes on, people have come to know me as the voice at the school district, and now at the police department.”

In other city communication efforts, Mayor Chris Coleman still doesn’t have a new communications director for his office.

His most recent PR aide, Richard Carlbom, left the mayor’s office last month to be campaign manager for the Minnesotans United for All Families, a group urging voters to reject a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. Carlbom previously had been campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in 2010 and had been mayor of St. Joseph, Minn., from 2005 to 2007.

Coleman’s chief of staff Erin Dady said that “Clarise Tushie-Lessard, our Press Secretary, is handling all communications during the transition.”

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