Among the tin ears that abound in this city’s political circles, it turns out we also may have a problem with myopic public executives.
Take, for instance, the Anchorage School District’s decision to hire a high-power, Seattle-headquartered public relations outfit to handle the fallout from the messy controversy surrounding an incident at Dimond High.
The firm, Strategies 360, touts itself as “a full-service research, public affairs, and communications firm, bringing deep expertise, providing a full range of services, and promising sharp strategic thinking that gets results.” The firm is well known in local circles. Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, as late as 2014, was a vice president.
The contract reportedly is for $12,000 the first month, with future months negotiable. It is, KTUU reports, for “crisis communications outreach and processes,” a euphemism, we suppose, for spin. There is no information on whether it is a sole-source deal. Nobody has explained why it was necessary or what it was intended to accomplish.
The services include but are not limited to “language development and editing; media relations including press releases, opinion editorials, media briefings, and when appropriate, press conferences; (and) strategic communication processes and planning,” KTUU says.
The district, it turns out, can enter contracts of up to $250,000 without School Board approval, and the board, it turns out, was not asked to approve the contract, but was told of it during a briefing on the Dimond High incident.
It is more than enough to raise eyebrows. In a school district constantly telling the public it needs more money, in a school district currently in contract negotiations with its teachers, spending money on a public relations contract is hard to explain. At its best, it offers what former President Barack Obama would describe as bad “optics.” But, to be fair, even if the contract were for the full $250K, it would be a drop in the bucket in a school district budget edging toward $1 billion.
We have highly paid executives in the school district who could, and should, be the ones explaining what happened and why. That is, after all, why we pay them, to run the district – good news and bad, and without sugar coating or sleight of hand.
If district officials are looking for PR advice, here is some: Release the contract details, answer all the public’s questions truthfully and move on.
There. No charge.