Brookhaven, GA, August 22, 2015 – by Trey Benton, Editorial – If you have been reading The Brookhaven Post for the years I have been running it, you should have recognized I shy away from doing my own Editorials and focus on issues and report “Just the Facts Ma’am.” But today, I have something I would like to say – as a resident, as a taxpayer of Brookhaven and witness to many goings on in our City Government.
On Tuesday, August 25th, Brookhaven City Leaders will convene at City Hall to conduct a regularly scheduled City Council Meeting. As I normally do when looking for stories, I downloaded the Agenda Packet after City Clerk Susan Hiott sent out the normal notification she has posted it to the City’s Website for all to see.
Perusing the Agenda, I came across an item that reads, “Consideration and Approval of Engagement Letter from Golin Group Communications – Action Item.” For those unfamiliar with what an Action Item is, it’s best explained as an Agenda Item that Council will act upon, meaning (in most cases), a vote will take place after Council deliberation to approve or deny – although sometimes Action Items are deferred for whatever reason.
Thinking this may be an article worthy topic, I read all of the attachments and learned more about what the Golin Group has proposed and what the City will get for a base monthly fee of $10,000 and Golin’s 60 to 80 monthly hours of what essentially amounts to part-time work. For other items, Golin will charge more money – $3,000 more monthly – to do things such as attend Council Meetings and provide “Strategic Communications Counsel.”
When reading through Golin’s credentials, it is clear the firm does have experience in Communications and Public Relations, and this editorial is not intended to speak to their ability to perform what they say they can perform. I want to make sure that is understood. It is clear to me however, the City of Brookhaven Elected Officials recognize they have a public image problem and most of them have told me more than once they have lost the public trust.
What Golin writes in their communications proposal gets to, in my opinion, the heart of the matter. “The City is still working through its latest crisis and requires immediate support and a plan moving forward in support of its new Mayor, City Council and City Manager”. Let’s not beat around the bush here. Golin is probably talking about the recent cover-up issue or possibly the Attorney General finding the City violated Open Records and Executive Session laws – both worthy of the term “Crisis” perhaps.
It appears to me the City is not looking to improve general communications – but wanting to hire a PR firm so City officials can solve their self inflicted public image crises and using our taxpayer dollars to do so conveniently at a time when two Council members and the Mayor are up for reelection.
When formulating a story about City contracts, I usually look in several places on the City website for information. One of those places is the Purchasing Department page where RFQ’s, RFI’s and RFP’s are listed. I was interested to see who else sent in a proposal for PR services but discovered there was no RFP to be found. So I asked City Hall about it. They told me that hiring a PR firm had been discussed in months past but the idea died on the vine when Council members were told an RFP process must be initiated and multiple bids must be secured.
To get around the need for a full RFP process, the plan is now to have Council members approve a four-month “consulting” contract for Golin. During this time, Golin will evaluate the City’s needs and formulate an RFP. As a result, the city would pay Golin a minimum of $10,000 per month – or $40,000 for the four-month period.
By now you are probably asking, what is the point of this Editorial? Well, I don’t think the taxpayers of the City, and I am one of them, want to pay $40,000 for four-months or if hired annually, upwards of $150,000 per year, to be told how wonderful the City Government is by a PR firm. I’ll decide for myself how wonderful the City Government is and how well City Leaders do their jobs. We don’t need to be told anyway, we need to be shown.
To City Officials: What needs to happen, is you need to act in such a way that you rebuild the public trust that you lost yourselves. Don’t spend my taxpayer dollars to fix your own public image problem. That is for you to fix.
If you are struggling to communicate with your constituents, hold community meetings as individual elected officials like you should be doing in your own districts and communicate what is going on…that’s your job as an Elected Official, not a PR firm nor the City Communications Department. Furthermore, the City of Brookhaven as a City does not have a PR crisis problem. The people who run it do.
Be honest, be humble, be sensible, be attentive and the PR issues magically go away. No one expects you to be a Super Hero, so stop thinking you are. If you don’t start there – with the basics – 50 PR firms won’t be able to make the City, or you, look good.
Hiring a PR firm is a waste of taxpayer money. Honesty and integrity are free. Let’s do that instead.
If you would like to read the City Meeting Agenda go here.