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California State Information Officers Council
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Frequently Asked Questions

What is SiOC?

SiOC is a not-for profit organization dedicated to providing support, education, information, networking, and other opportunities to the public information, communication, editorial and publication professionals in California state service.

What is the History of SiOC?

The following is reprinted with permission from the Capitol Morning Report of Tuesday, August 1, 2000.
For subscription information, call (916) 443-5883.

KEEPING UP - A history of SiOC - Well, sort of...

By Sid Mandel

(Written in response to news that the State Information Officers Council had created a scholarship.)

The State Information Officers Council had no official beginning, unless it would be the day we introduced dues. That radical notion by Candy Johnson was greeted with disdain by some of her fellow PIOs - Public Information Officers or flacks (Note: Some PIOs find the word "flack" derogatory. - Webmaster) - but most agreed that 12 bucks a year was not excessive, and so we became a functioning organization about 1970.

When I first arrived in Sacramento in 1968 as PIO for the State Air Resources Board, I met Candy and her fellow "flacks" at the Department of Water Resources. One of them, Dick Wilford, told me that some flacks were meeting monthly to gab and gossip over lunch at various State building cafeterias, and I began to attend.

To describe that early group as "loosely organized" is flattery. It was at best an ad hoc "chowder and marching society," with nobody marching. Some grumbled about State cafeteria food, and urged that we meet instead in the private dining room at Roberts Fish Grotto, just east of 10th on K Street, before there was a mall.

Dean Thompson, also from Water Resources, was president. He was succeeded by Cal Pitts of Highways/CalTrans, who was followed by Agriculture's Si Nathenson in 1969. That was when I became formally involved: Si was transferred to Los Angeles, and I succeeded him. It was then that Candy forever altered the nature of SIOC (pronounced SIGH-ock) by proposing dues.

With money coming in we needed a treasurer and elected Art German of the California Youth Authority, Sacramento. Also, we began to invite guest speakers to our monthly meetings. In 1971 I was elected to a full term, and our  membership grew. Roberts' room was too small, and thus began an ongoing odyssey through the few downtown restaurants that had private meeting facilities. And, sad to say, 30 years later the dearth continues. Highlight of our year was the annual three or four day seminar we conducted, with educational workshops and guest lecturers, at Asilomar, the State's conference center on the coast at Pacific Grove. But strange things began happening in State government. Governor Ronald Reagan brought in a few media people to oversee some of the public information programs, and since they had no civil service qualifications, as did we PIOs, the administration created new high-level positions and titles for them, exempt from civil service requirements.

Perhaps because of their own biases, several of our new bosses were suspicious of us from the start, contending that we were all a bunch of "Pat Brown Democrats." I mention this because of what happened when the Jerry Brown administration arrived in 1975. Not only did the civil service circumventions continue and grow in number, but our new bosses were as suspicious as the Reaganites. The only difference was that they called us a bunch of "damned Republicans."

Also during the Brown administration, we were encouraged to drop our annual Asilomar seminar and replace it with a local event, which we did. At about the same time, during the late 70s, SIOC was wooed into joining the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC), an action that thrilled me not at all. (I saw nothing in it for us.) Because of that, and because we were still dominated by the Brownies, Jerry's flakes/flacks, I and several others lost interest in the organization and it stopped meeting for a while.

However, it wasn't long before flack Jane Goldman (whose affiliation I can't recall) called and asked me to help her revive SIOC. That we did, and in 1980, I became president of the newly reorganized group. My first act was to contact NAGC in Washington, and ask them to return the money SIOC had been sending them regularly, for which we had received absolutely nothing. When they ignored my request, I contacted my Congressman, Robert Matsui, who got on it immediately, and within a matter of days, SIOC received a -check for the full amount that we had sent, somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000, as I recall.

A few years later, the entire class of Public Information Officers came under attack by members of the Legislature, who sought to eliminate the position from State government. Vince Vandre of Fish & Game, and I, then with the Board of Equalization, actively lobbied individual Senators. They agreed with us that, even if the class were to be abolished, the function would have to continue, in the words of Senator Herschel Rosenthal, "to protect the public's right to know." And it was that victory that convinced us that SIOC was a necessary organization.

In the 1980s, when we older PIOs began to retire, a new generation succeeded us. We Old Retired Flacks (ORFs) still meet for lunch and reminiscing once each month. But it is the new SIOC that is making news. In June, SIOC established a $10,000 Endowment and Student Scholarship at CSU Sacramento, in the words of SIOC President Steve Martarano, "to promote awareness of government public information as a career option for students with a communications industry employment goal."

The scholarship will provide one student each year with $500 for tuition and books, and is available to Juniors and Seniors who are majoring in Communication Studies/Journalism or English and who maintain a 3.0 grade point average in the major. Applicants are required to submit a short essay discussing the most critical communication issue of the day from either a global, industry; local, or interpersonal perspective.

Conceived and achieved by Martarano, the scholarship elevates SIOC and its 65 members to a level of distinction well above its status as a chowder and non marching society of four decades ago. Today, it's a downright philanthropic organization that is putting its non-profit monies (Dues are $40 annually) to good use. Indeed, it's enough to make us Old Retired "Flacks" mighty proud of it and of its dedication to "the public's right to know."

# # #

Sid Mandel retired from "flackery" in 1987 after 12 years with the Board of Equalization, three with the Department of Health Services and four with the ARB. He started his communications career as a disk jockey in Fresno but quit when ordered to change his format from jazz and pop to rock and roll. His next day job was as manager of a local cemetery, but he continued to freelance gags and scripts to an agent in Hollywood. Encouraged by the response, he moved to "LA" and spent the next several years as a fulltime writer. (He still gets a few bucks now and then when some TV station in Bombay, India, or thereabouts reruns one of the "Gilligan's Island" episodes that he wrote.) But Hollywood was feast or famine, and after several years on the roller coaster, he chose a state job and stability. Although retired, he continues a weekly restaurant column he started 15 years ago for the Daily Recorder, Sacramento's legal newspaper. And why not? It pays enough to buy a meal every week for him and Judy, his wife of 51 years.

Who Can Join SiOC?

Employees of the State of California who are working in the public relations or public/media communications area, such as Information Officer, or in a related field can join. Members in California-based public relations companies can join as associate members.

How Do I Join SiOC?

Our sign-up process is now easy and online.

What Are Those Pictures on Your Homepage?

The photos of the collapsed freeway and fire scenes on our homepage come from the on-line photo gallery of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. SiOC members were instrumental in response to emergencies and major events experienced by California - the Loma Prieta Earthquake, various wildland fires, etc. We gratefully acknowledge OES and its chief photographer, Robert A. Eplett. Pictures of freeway traffic, power lines, the State Capitol and California Bear Flag are from the California Energy Commission.