“Our PR sucks.”
That was Kern High School District Trustee Chad Vegas’ summation after an open battle Monday night with fellow Trustee Jeff Flores over whether to approve a nearly $380,000 contract with Providence Strategic Consulting to, essentially, soft focus the district’s image.
Aside from the inappropriate language from a supposed grownup, it’s beyond ludicrous that Vegas and/or this district thinks it can gloss over its very real problems with — what? — a slick brochure? Some feel-good commercials? Maybe a snappy slogan?
The problem isn’t a lack of “messaging.”
The problem is an appalling lack of leadership and focus.
And trustees have only themselves to blame.
They feel they’ve received an undo amount of bad press over the last year about the “chicken suit,” guns on campus and whether to adhere to a federal mandate to let students choose which bathroom to use based on their own gender identification. (See sidebar)
“We do need a PR firm. We need support,” whined Trustee Flores, who wasn’t arguing against spending the $380,000. He just wanted to give the money to a different firm. He later decided against hiring a PR firm at all.
Meanwhile, KHSD board Chairman Mike Williams revved up the old saw about how the media focuses on the negative.
Guys, here’s some free advice: If you think the press is gunning for you, stop giving us bullets.
Speaking of which, this whole PR issue is now bringing up serious questions about whether the district crossed the line by possibly spending taxpayer money to influence voters on its upcoming $280 million bond measure.
Back in March, KHSD awarded a $70,000 no bid (that means no one else got a chance to vie for the job) contract to Providence for “public outreach and strategic communication.”
It says right at the top of the contract, in big, bold letters, that the agreement does not include any work regarding the district’s bond measure.
It was only for Providence to develop a “message” for the district, do “public presentations” and “coordinate public information.”
OK, except a couple of things.
First, the district already pays someone nearly $98,000 to do exactly what’s listed in that contract.
Second, if we take the “this isn’t about the bond” bit at face value, it means Providence has already been doing PR for the district for several months.
Annnnnnd, according to Vegas, “Our PR sucks.”
If so, why hire Providence for nearly six times the money for more sucky PR?
Oh, and then there’s this from the March 7 meeting when that $70,000 contract was awarded.
Trustee Bryan Batey told an audience member who was upset the contract wasn’t put out to bid that he had recommended Providence partly because its owner, Tracy Leach, “Is active in the local business community and oil industry and I thought it was a positive outreach to industry and people who would be paying big portions of the bond if that ever happened.”
A contract that supposedly has nothing to do with the bond, given to a person specifically because of her ability to reach out to those people who would be paying for the bond.
Even Gillette couldn’t give a closer shave than that.
Maybe it’s all on the up and up.
But from here, it looks more like either KHSD used taxpayer money to try to influence the bond election or it spent taxpayer money on PR that its own trustees say was worthless.
Which is it?
I won’t hold my breath for an answer.
I will just say this, rather than hiring someone to try to make their doo doo smell pretty, KHSD trustees should just stop with the doo doo.
Read archived columns by Lois Henry at Bakersfield.com/henry.
Lois Henry appears on “First Look with Scott Cox” every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM and 96.1 FM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your 2 cents in by calling 842-KERN.