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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Brown's Taxpayer-Funded Propaganda Machine

When a County Executive hires a PR firm with the taxpayer's money, is it right for him to use that firm to play politics? Is it right for him to use that firm to advance his agenda, when a majority of Council opposes him? Is it right for that firm to use its position to advance the interests of its clients? Based on email exchanges between Northampton County Executive John Brown and Sahl Communications' Kim Plyler, it appears that these dangers have already occurred.

Kim Plyler's Sahl Communications is a private PR firm that Executive John Brown first hired on February 8, 2014. It was a no-bid contract, and the first time that an Executive decided to use an outside firm for public relations. All four Democrats on Council opposed it, and Controller Steve Barron sued to have the contract declared invalid.

In a news conference after this contract was awarded, Executive Brown dismissed concerns that an outside firm would be less effective than an insider with a more detailed knowledge; the danger that it could be perverted into a publicly-financed propaganda machine for him; or worse, that Plyler would use insider knowledge to open doors for other possible vendors or her other clients.

But in response to Barron's lawsuit, filed on April 3, Brown ended the contract and decided to seek proposals instead of going the no-bid route. On July 3, he issued an Executive Order awarding the contract to Sahl again. This time, it is a one-year, $75,500, contract. This is below the $100,000 threshold required to trigger Council approval.

Barron sued again. Although Judge Roscioli doesn't seem to think much of his request for injunctive relief, discovery in this case reveals that this PR contract is being abused, perhaps illegally. It is a publicly-financed propaganda machine that has brazenly engaged in politics. Plyler has used this contract to open doors for at least one of her other clients. It has also been used to advance the Executive's agenda, even when it is opposed by a majority of Council.

You can read some of those emails here.

Political Abuse

On February 17, 2014, there's an email exchange between Plyler and Brown, sent to his county email address. Plyler also sent copies this email to Matt Deibert and Lucy Lennon, two of Brown's political advisors. The email refers to notes from "today's fundraising meeting". Plyler request an appointment at the courthouse on Monday to review those fundraising notes, and Brown sets up a noon meeting in his courthouse office.

The use of taxpayer resources for political purposes is precisely what brought about the Bonusgate prosecution. This is both stealing and a conflict of interest

In an April 4, 2014 email exchange between Brown and Plyler, the Exec uses his county email address to discuss an upcoming Corbett fundraiser. Plyler jokes about the $500 per person pricetag, saying it must be a Republican event..This email exchange occurred after Brown had ended his first contract with Plyler, but he's using his county email address. Also, Plyler was paid for this month.

Using PR Firm Against Council Majority  

In one of the attachments, Plyler describes her work between February 14 and March 21/14 as "crisis media relations", specifically referring to the failed $700k no-bid contract for Deana Zonsky, her own contract and a temporary halt in drug evaluations.

The Deana Zosky no-bid business consultant contract was opposed by a majority of Council, yet Plyler was using taxpayer resources to put out the fires concerning that controversial proposal. Her own contract was opposed by four members of Council as well as the Controller.

So this PR firm is working for Brown, not the County.It seems folly to use taxpayer resources to pit one branch of government against another.

PR Firm Using Taxpayer Resources to Advance Other Clients

Irish author Tony Macaulay is one of Plyler's clients. In a March 12 email concerning St. Paddy's day, she suggested that Brown attend one of his lectures at a Bethlehem business, telling him that "it's important to get to know business owners in Bethlehem." Obviously, she was killing two birds with one stone. She was connecting two of her clients.


In a March 28 note, Plyler states she is providing  "proactive media relations" to "establish good news stories happening in the county." Thus, she is using taxpayer funds to present slanted stories, instead of the unvarnished truth. In a March 30 email, she blots Jeff Parks off of a picture for God knows what reason, in some strange attempt to distort reality.

I have a feeling this will be the subject of quite a bit of discussion at Thursday night's Council meeting.

Updated 9:30 am.


Anonymous said...

The joint I starting to smell Bernie

Bernie O'Hare said...

It's not good.

Anonymous said...

Excellent work Bernie. While that crazy convicted criminal stalker stays up all night looking for something, anything, everything negative to say about you, and her mentor convicted criminal Gregory pisses in a metal toilet and eats crap for food and sleeps on a cot with no boxspring, you're out toiling hard and doing great investigative work. Thanks for keeping an eye out for malfeasance in government. These jackasses will take whatever they can while we're earning money to pay our bills and taxes.

Anonymous said...

What a load of crap. Hope you are comfy living up O'Hare's
ass you brownnoser. I guess you owe him that for getting you free attorneys.

Mr. Brown is following the law and cleaning up the messes left by his predecessor. O'Hare is angry because unlike the last turd, Executive Brown does not let O'Hare sit in on every important discussion.

Also you have to pay taxes before you piss about carrying people that don't.

So sod off you bugger!

Anonymous said...

the blatant use of government resources for political purposes is most disturbing

Anonymous said...

Meh. This is just a misstep by Brown being blown out of proportion. He's made a few but hopefully things will improve now that the cabinet is filled. Sure it's a waste of money and the county email shouldn't be used to discuss politics. By now he must realize that he's not in Bangor anymore. Stevie blunder's lawsuit is a joke. I'll wait until this administration puts out a budget to pass judgement.

Anonymous said...

Slanted stories?

Not the unvarnished truth?

take a look in the mirror

Bernie O'Hare said...

The emails, to which I've linked, are fairly clear. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that taxpayer money was used for political purposes, that the PR firm was used to advance an agenda opposed by a Council majority, that Plyler used taxpayer money to advance the cause of other private clients, and that the PR firm was used for propaganda.

Anonymous said...

What a tremendous waste of taxpayers money. Brown thinks he is in the White House, and needs a press secretary. Pyler is a spin doctor, pure and simple. Her job is to make Brown look good for his re-election. And who is footing the bill for this contract? The saps who pay property taxes in the county. Let's hope that some of the opposition council members will question Brown at length about his need for this service at a time when the county is nearly broke. His Director of Administration should have the basic language skills to issue press releases and to organize media events. This is not rocket science. But Brown thinks he is on a throne and must have paid minions running around to bolster his image. The PR contract was bad the first time and is even worse now. How will Pyler "spin" Brown's austerity budget when her firm is raking in $75 K from dwindling county resources?

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Stevie blunder's lawsuit is a joke."

I'd agree, except that we'd know none of this but for his litigation. The use of this PR person for political fundraising notes is disgusting.

You don't use public money to play politics.

Also, you don';t use pubic money to advance an Exec agenda opposed by a majority of Council.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you and ANgle should have thought of that during stoffa gate and the gracedale mess

of course your hypocrisy is in rare form again

Bernie O'Hare said...

Except there was no wrongdoing and no misuse of taxpayer resources. The court of common pleas determined that (twice) and appeals to the Commonwealth and Supreme Court were rejected. An attempt to involve the DA was spurned. The only place that anyone was convicted was in anonymous comments on blogs. Whenever anyone was directly confronted, the charges fizzled.

Anonymous said...

He can raise billions and he won`t get my vote. He is clueless and the worst executive ever.

Anonymous said...

Arrogance by Mr. Brown. His suspenders are cutting of his O2.

Matt M. said...

This is what happens when you don't get involved, don't learn who your candidates are and don't vote.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this illegal? And what can council or controller do about this?

Bernie O'Hare said...

It would appear to me at first blush that the meeting in Brown's office with his taxpayer-funded PR consultant on 2/18/14 about fundraising is both a violation of the conflict of interest provisions of the Ethics Act as well as theft. Perhaps there was some simple ignorance. Brown has only been in office for a little over month and his PR consultant doesn't seem to have a clue. But what was the fundraising about? The ccs to Matt Deibert and Lucy Lennon make it pretty clear this is political, but it could have been for girl scout cookies or something more benign. This matter is going to require a criminal investigation, and since this is outside the scope of the Executive's authority, he will not be able to use his Solicitor. He will have to hire private counsel.

This is the danger of using an outside PR consultant, and I specifically warned Brown about this in a March news conference.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully this is investigated to the full extent to get clear facts. Also that it will be unbiased as everything is about politics.
If this is found to be fraud and ethical violation what can be done?

Bernie O'Hare said...

This is quite serious. But before asking the DA to investigate, I think ALL the emails must be examined. Also, though the temptation will be very great, Democrats need to refrain from turning this into a political circus.

It's simply amazing to me how much conflicts of interest have cropped up in the past few months. Dolan in Bethlehem, Brett in Easton, and now this.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernie O'Hare said...

"Larry," Lucy is not an elected official. Please give us your real name before personally insulting someone. Thank you.