PR Directors Beware

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A guest commentary from Craig Westcott

Craig Westcott took pity on me today.

Aware that I have an injured hand - it's healing but still tender, thank you - the journalist and publisher of The Business Post called and offered to pen a guest commentary for this blog. Naturally, I accepted.

Craig writes about public relations directors within government. He points out that their positions were made permanent by Danny Williams, even though the directors still serve a political master.

Please note that these are Craig Westcott's views, and not necessarily mine.

Something tells me the comments are going to be lively on this one...

PR directors should act with care

Not long after his first election as Premier, Danny Williams changed the rules regarding public relations directors, making them permanent civil servants.

Prior to the change, PR folks were classified as political staff, meaning they served at the whim of government. When the parties in office changed, so too, with few exceptions, did the PR people. Accordingly, upon termination they received the same kind of severance packages as other political staff.

It was a sensible practice. Many PR directors were hand chosen by cabinet ministers and some even worked on their election and re-election campaigns. Given the requirements of their jobs to do everything in their power to make their political bosses look good and mitigate any fall-out from bad publicity, it was only right that PR directors be classified as political.

Williams' move changed everything and nothing. Making PR directors full fledged civil servants, with all the attendant rights to salary, benefits and severance that that entails, inflicted upon future governments an unnecessary and unfair extra cost.

The nature of the job has not changed. Most of the PR directors with the current administration are as zealous about protecting their ministers' asses as the former Liberal ones were. Some engage in overtly political behaviour, such as blacklisting some reporters and denying advertising to media outlets that have been critical of the regime.

And while Williams has tried to project a façade of imparting a code of impartial public service to be observed by PR directors, he himself has been the biggest transgressor of that policy. The appointment of his son-in-law to the position of PR Director for the departments of Justice and Finance is only the most obvious example of that.

The question that naturally arises is: If the next election sees a change of party in office, how can most of the current PR directors be trusted to be impartial and fair in their service to the new regime?

The obvious answer is that they cannot.

And yet, because of William's policy change, it will cost the new government substantially more money to terminate those PR directors who have acted as Williams loyalists. This is unfair both to the new administration and to taxpayers.

But there is a remedy. Under the new rules PR directors are supposed to be impartial public servants serving the best interests of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Their loyalty is to the public, not the Danny Williams administration, which is a key distinction. Therefore, any one of them who have acted in a political way can be fired for either transgressing their obligation to be impartial, or for failing to perform their jobs satisfactorily.

That would mean the departing PR directors will receive less severance pay than they would have received as political staff.

The key for the new administration will be to appoint a neutral Public Service Commission officer to investigate the conduct of the PR directors. Such an investigation should naturally involve soliciting the opinions of journalists and media outlets that dealt with them, as well as a careful review of their e-mail and other correspondence. If such documentary evidence has been destroyed, that in itself should be grounds for dismissal.

Craig Westcott


The Business Post

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Recent comments

  • Mike
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    You had me there for a moment Craig.

    For a moment I thought you were serious. At least until I got the place where you opine that to get rid of the politcal appointees with full time regula position status the solution may lie in The key for the new administration will be to appoint a neutral Public Service Commission officer to investigate the conduct of the PR directors .

    Good luck on that. This is not something that has happened in the past nor will it in the foreseeable future. A neutral PSC will take away one of the reasons people work for political parties. That of the polital appointment. Government will not give up the poser to hire those who it wants to reward with appointments.

    Besides, these PR hacks and spin thingees so firmly attached to Williams et al will find no shortage lawyers to fight for their wrongful dismissal claims which have been strenghened by making them regular enplyees of Government.

    Nope, that's not going to happen. Suck it up taxpayers. Like it or not the taxpayer will take a big hit in severance packages for this bunch when they are ousted as they will no doubt be at some time in the future.

    Williams et al may be a lot of things but stupid, when dealing from a position of power to confer the goodies on the family and party faithful, is not one of them.

    Sure would be nice to see those contracts they were hired under. Iron clad legal masterpieces no doubt.

    Get that hand better Geoff. We need it and more like it to provide at least some checks and balances on majority Governments willing to push through and steam roll over what it wants to.

    Heaven protect us if we ever lose the press. This includes bloggers.