Friday, August 07, 2009

This week the local political beat belongs to Caleb Hannan; the other reporters are just visiting (part 2)

Yesterday Scene reporter Hannan also took some time away from delving into Tony G's history in order to quarry some valuable information on local public relations firm McNeely, Pigott, and Fox. For those who have been living in a hole this week: MP&F was caught billing Metro astronomically for lobbying work on behalf of the Mayor's office and MDHA, including pimping the news media to support the expensive convention center proposal.

In another piece worthy of your time, Caleb quotes the Mayor's scribe at the City Paper quoting a MP&F partner who insists that the firm did not help Karl Dean write pro-convention center speeches. Caleb then proceeds to dismantle that claim by documenting billing for e-mails to the Mayor's Communication Director Janel Lacy, billing for speech and Q&A practice, billing for the Mayor's council talking points, and billing for final edits.

The Scene reporter leaves me wondering, why are we paying a public relations firm for working on the Mayor's speeches to drum up public and council support for his own pet project? Why does this Mayor require our valuable resources to pitch a project he believes in and to lobby a council that all but rolls over for him on command? Why is all of this money going to the Mayor's friends at MP&F?

Caleb draws a few conclusions of his own based on what he and NewsChannel5's Ben Hall have discovered so far:
1) No matter what they say to the contrary, MP&F were lobbying the council. In their own invoices they draw a line between support and opposition. They also make it clear who, out of the two, they chose to reward.

2) Including the words "Twitter" in a headline about hog-wild government spending is always going to make news. What might be worse, however, than a couple hours spent on social networking are all the hours billed for nothing in particular. There are hundreds of pages of invoices with thousands of lines of inventoried charges and roughly 80% of those are grouped under ambiguous titles like "meeting" or "e-mails." What kind of meetings? E-mails to who? We'll never know.

3) Maybe they didn't pen them themselves, but if we're to believe what's on the bill it'd be downright misleading to say MP&F didn't have a hand in shaping speeches given by Mayor Dean and MDHA head Phil Ryan.

4) This "this is only 3% of the money" excuse is utter bullshit. You're saying you can't control costs on a minuscule portion of the budget...and that's an argument in your favor? So MDHA is building us a billion dollar house and they just got overcharged 500% on the nails. This is supposed to inspire confidence?

5) Last but not least, the Mayor. Dean probably made the right move by suspending MP&F's "communications." But are we really to believe he only just realized their spending was out of control? All he had to do was look around the room, during one of his many meetings or speech pow-wows, and start counting heads: There's $285 an hour, there's $285 an hour, there's $285 an hour...At some point, it's not just enough to say "I didn't know." It's your responsibility to know. We wouldn't accept that kind of excuse from any manager. We shouldn't accept it from you either.
If you want to keep up with this unfolding convention center fiasco in the print media, I don't see any need to look to any other beat reporter than Caleb Hannan at this point.

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