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PR crisis management: what not to do


All right, students, gather 'round. Here's today's lesson: What Not To Do When Faced With A Crisis/Scandal.
For our lesson, we'll be using the real-life example of the kerfuffle in Ogdensburg, where the city let a family live in a city-owned home for three years without paying rent or taxes on it. (Indeed, the money only went one way: from the government to the family. The city spent a boatload to renovate the home.)
Step One: Do not explain to us why you haven't been able to keep up on your responsibilities, as city manager Art Sciorra did.
"There are many things going on in the city that I don't follow very closely," said Mr. Sciorra. "Each one of these offices has a department head that should be managing those affairs. When things rise to the level of being problematic, then I have to look at it."
Step Two: Do not sit around as one of your subordinates calls you a liar in the press (whether he's right isn't the question; he's an at-will employee).
(Same link as above:) "I cannot sit by and watch (City Manager Arthur J. Sciorra) lie to you and the public," Planning and Development Director J. Justin Woods said Wednesday. "Especially when he was party to discussions and approved all decisions."
Mr. Woods only recently "submitted his resignation."
Step Three: After you've firmly planted your foot in your mouth, and let your employees use the issue as a bludgeon, do not remain silent and unaccountable.
That's exactly what happened last night. After weeks of demanding answers (and not getting any), Ogdensburg City Council aired its dirty laundry went behind closed doors, which was probably against state law, to discuss the matter.
I encourage you to read that entire article, by Chris Robbins, unless, of course, you don't like headaches, in which case, don't read it (and that's no offense to Mr. Robbins, who has done a stellar job here).
I'll give you the headache-free version: City Council doesn't respect the public enough to give a full debriefing on what went wrong, how it went wrong and what would be done to fix it.
But the public will indeed have its say. Nov. 8 is election day.
And that's Step Four: Remember who your boss is. And remember that the public may be forgiving of mistakes, but obfuscation will get you evicted voted out of office toot sweet.

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