Tuesday, August 05, 2014
Brown's Taxpayer-Funded Propaganda Machine
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.
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.