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Tom Lorenz, Glendale communications director, retiring after 36 years of public service

Tom Lorenz, Glendale communications director, retiring after 36 years of public service
Tom Lorenz, center, is retiring after 36 years of public service and nearly a decade as the director of communications for Glendale. Dan Bell, left, and Eliza Papazian will be taking over integral parts of the operations that Lorenz oversaw. (James Carbone)

The police radio chirped on the desk of Glendale communications director Tom Lorenz. A bank robbery suspect had been apprehended in Montrose.

Even though Lorenz had less than a week left on the job, he sprung to life on that late Tuesday afternoon.

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“It’s a mess up there,” Lorenz told one of his protégés, Dan Bell, from behind his desk in Glendale City Hall.

Bell was already on the phone with Glendale’s police spokesman as the team worked on digesting and disseminating the rapidly developing news.

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According to Lorenz, who is retiring from his post on Dec. 3, the protocols that were playing out are his legacy.

“Right now, we had a bank robbery. OK, that bank robbery could have ended up in a shooting, and we would have had an officer-involved shooting,” Lorenz said.

“I have put plans together so that if A, B or C happened, then all I have to do is plug in the blanks, and I’m ready to roll,” he added.

It’s a philosophy of proactive preparedness he learned from years working as a police officer, including specializing in narcotics and sexual-assault cases for two years in Azusa before coming to Glendale in 1984.

“It’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when it’s going to happen,” said Lorenz, repeating a refrain he’s fond of. “We hope that we don’t ever have some of the worst tragedies in the world that we hear about, but we know we will. We just don’t know when.”

Because of the sensitive and salacious nature of the cases he worked on at the police department, he was often tasked with the dual role of liaising with the public, handling media and mitigating rumors.

Lorenz’s knack for the communications side of police work landed him the job of adjutant to the Glendale Police Chief in 2004.

He honed his skills as the spokesman for the chief before being asked by then Assistant City Manager Yasmin Beers in 2008 to help the city’s media team handle high-profile litigation cases.

In 2014, after splitting his time between the police department and the city for four years, he was elevated to director of communications and community relations for the city.

Soon after taking the helm, Lorenz said he started organizing alignment meetings with all of the city’s 14 departments — from police to public works to finance — to begin working together on messaging.

As a result, the city rolled out a series of new communications platforms, including social media accounts, an electronic newsletter and online “rumor page” to dispel incorrect information spread on social media and by word of mouth.

When several of those platforms received national recognition, “we knew we were hitting it,” Lorenz said.

Then there’s the protocols.

Every incident of note triggers a decision process: Does it require the team to put together a press release or is it better to push it out on social media first? Does it rise to the level where they have to launch the city’s Emergency Operation Center? Do they run emergency messages on the city website? On the TV channel?

According to Lorenz, if the building began to shake because of an earthquake — if it was the “big one” — everyone working for him would know exactly what to do.

Describing Michael Jackson’s 2009 funeral at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale — and the media circus it attracted — as one of the “craziest” things he’s dealt with in his position, he said it still came down to developing a watertight plan and executing it.

With everyone up to speed on the plans he’s helped develop, Lorenz said he doesn’t need to be replaced.

Instead, under Lorenz’s succession plan, his right-hand man and woman, Dan Bell and Eliza Papazian, will take over as public information officer and a community relations manager, respectively.

They will now report to the deputy city manager.

“We’ve probably done something very good for the community because we’re doing it more efficiently now,” Lorenz said, noting that he eliminated an executive position: his own.

After 36 years of public service and a cache of unused sick days, Lorenz said it’s time for him to focus on himself and his family, including his wife of 12 years and six children.

Still, Lorenz admitted, “I don’t know how the decompression state’s going to work.”

While still reflecting on post-retirement life, a call came in: Yet another robbery suspect was being chased through Glendale by Los Angeles police.

Lorenz alerted Bell, who was already on it.

A farewell reception for Lorenz is slated from 2 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 5 in the Community Room at the Glendale Police Headquarters, 131 N. Isabel St., Glendale.

Free and open to the public, a program recognizing Lorenz will begin at 3 p.m.

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