Friday, October 30, 2009
Let's look at what Dow did right. It erred on the side of safety to evacuate those residents and prevent what could become a sudden crisis. The company, of course, is paying for rooms for 60 families and, I assume, some sort of stipend for meals. That was smart.
The Freeport city manager said it would have been "the right thing to do" to notify the city immediately on Sunday. A Dow chemical spokeswoman said the plant didn't feel a need to notify the city because there was no risk to the community. Here in Louisville, we have an ordinance that lists chemicals of concern and reportable quantities for each. A reportable release, even if it's contained onsite in a basin and not a risk to employees or the public, requires an immediate 911 call and a kicks off a public notification and response process. The most hazardous substances have a one-pound minimum reportable quantity (MRQ). Plants here tend to report anything that might be an MRP to avoid fines if they find out later they should have reported and didn't. I would say close to half of the 911 calls made by Rubbertown plants, which are the ones I'm most familiar with, are determined later to be non-reportable. Either Freeport doesn't have such an ordinance, or the leak of TDI didn't meet the MRQ. I would accept the company's explanation of a late notification. Dow usually knows what to do in situations like this one.
The news website referenced above has several comments in praise of Dow. One writer compared the chemical with the one released in Bhopal, but others jumped in quickly to correct the information and praise Dow for its ongoing safety emphasis. When I was in the chemical industry, that's how I knew when the plant -- and I -- was doing a good job: when people praised and defended us. You may have heard the chemical industry doesn't have the greatest respect among the general public. As best I can tell, Dow is doing nothing to contribute to that negative opinion.
Two separate articles about lawsuits filed against Metro Animal Services appear on a single page of today's local paper. So what's the source of this former vet's pressure? Oh, not much:
- Meloche was reprimanded after sexual harassment complaints by an employee were substantiated. During the investigation, two other women said they too had been harassed but hadn't filed formal complaints. The woman who filed the complaint has now followed up with a law suit against Meloche, his assistant Wayne Zelinsky, and Metro Louisville government, claiming she was retaliated against after filing her claim. She has since left Animal Control. By the way, Zelinsky will be the acting director when Meloche leaves at the end of the year.
- An internal audit found mismanagement of an arrangement between animal services and a non-profit animal adoption agency. An investigation is underway to determine if public records were hidden or destroyed.
- This week, a Louisville couple filed suit against Louisville metro government, Miloche, Zelinsky, and an animal control officer for allegedly entering their home, taking away two adult pit bulls and a litter of puppies without a warrant. It's not the first time Animal Services has done this, so more suits are probably pending. Two women pretended to be responding to an ad to look at the puppies. After seeing them, they went outside, claiming they wanted to discuss which puppy to buy. They disappeared and were replace by two animal control officers at the door, who entered the house and confiscated the dogs. Meloche contends the seizures are legal under the animal control ordinance. In that case, the courts need to take a look at that ordinance, because in my America, searches and seizures of property without warrants are banned by the Constitution.
- Following a severe rainstorm in August that flooded the shelter, animals had to be evacuated to the fairgrounds and several animals drowned. A number of people blamed Meloche and his department for negligent treatment.
- The city's Government Accountability Committee has held several hearings over issues within Animal Services.
So here is an appointed government figure who, guilty of any wrongdoing or not, has come under scrutiny on a number of fronts. The civil suits will cost the city money. His temporary replacement has been named in law suits. Kelly Downard, a member of Metro Council and head of the Government Accountability Program got it right when he said, "We really need to start with a clean slate."These kinds of smoldering crises can take up valuable time, money, and lost productivity. Meloche should have been asked to leave earlier this year instead of being supported by the mayor after all the mess under Meloche's watch. I hope there are no Meloches leading your organization. I know how hard it is to force a resignation, but poor leadership always is a smoldering crisis, and the sooner it is dealt with, the better. Just ask the University of Indiana athletic department about the legacy its basketball program off the court.
First, the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo). For background, read my June 30 post. KACo provides lobbying support and insurance for dues-paying member counties in Kentucky. State Auditor Crit Luallen on Thursday issued a 400-page report that found KACo officials ran up $3 million in questionable spending during the past three years. Current and former executives spent money on alcohol, tickets for shows and sports, trips, gifts, parties, generous benefits for themselves, a strip club, and an escort service.
Luallen called the expenditures "excessive," "extravagant," "outrageous," "and in some cases they're distasteful." But she didn't call them illegal. She said there was no attempt to deceive the board so there will be no charges filed.
So where was the board while Rome was burning? The fact is, board members were part of what Luallen called "a self-serving culture (that) flourished as many board members, management, and staff benefited from spending." They all were riding on the gravy train, and the lack of oversight was an oversight. There may be some justice brought to bear on the former executive director Bob Arnold, who KACo provided with a BMW SUV and a country club membership. The audit found that Arnold didn't report those perqs on his W2, so Luallen is sending the report to the IRS.
A footnote: Although Arnold resigned in September, he will continue to draw his $178,000 salary through June because his contract contained a clause that allows full payment even in the event of "acts of dishonesty." How could any organization agree to that?
It was the Lexington Herald-Leader that broke this story and several other cases of quasi-government organizations' spending. KACo was the last one skewered. When the library, airport, and Kentucky League of Cities had already been featured, and the Herald-Leader had made an open-records request to review the group's finances, didn't someone at KACo see the smoldering crisis and begin reviews and policy changes? Maybe they discussed it over a lavish dinner.
I mentioned the airport. That's the Blue Grass Airport in Lexington. The Herald-Leader reported personal purchases made with the airport's money. For details, see my January 15 post. Fifteen-count indictments were handed out against four former airport officials Tuesday. One allegedly bought $1,600 worth of theater tickets for plays in Cincinnati. He is reported to have used another airport employee's company credit card to buy more that $1,000 worth of lavish clothes from Eddie Bauer, then write "uniforms" on the receipt. Three of the four accused went to a Texas strip club in 2004 and charged more that $5,000. (Wow, that's a lot of dollar bills!) The Blue Grass Four faces felony theft charges.
It's frightening to think that a few people at KACo and the Blue Grass Airport still would be spending money that doesn't belong to them if the Herald-Leader hadn't investigated. Whatever organization you work for should have a thorough auditing system in place. Where were the auditors for KACo and the airport? It's not enough to be audited. Someone needs to ensure the auditor is doing its job to avert a crisis such as these. It would have been cheaper to hire a second auditor or at least an accountant to audit the books before the Herald-Leader and attorney general did it for them.
For more on these stories, visit the Herald-Leader's web site at www.kentucky.com.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
I sincerely hope that you, as CEO of ACORN, will take some advice from me, a crisis communications consultant. In short, if you are paying an individual or consulting firm, call now and fire them. If your crisis plan is being implemented internally, hire someone. Now.
You spoke to reporters at the National Press Club Tuesday about the well-documented indiscretion of a couple employees who were caught in a taped sting. You didn't stop there. You went on to blame the news media for your crisis. (http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/10/06/acorn.press.club/) I've waded through dozens of news reports and can't find anything else of substance you have said in the past month.
I'm happy to see your web site has been updated since yesterday (http://www.acorn.org/). Until this morning, it had a rude cartoon criticizing Fox News for its program called, "Fox News Reporting: The Truth about ACORN." It airs tonight, you say. But it aired last Friday! Your web site clearly isn't being kept up to date at a time when you need to be communicating regularly.
Along with the anti-Fox News cartoon was language like this: "With its attempted, often successful, agenda setting, the American right and its media echo chambers (led by Fox) have spent years targeting organizations that advocate on behalf of low-income and minority Americans. ACORN, as the nation's largest community organization of low- and moderate-income people Americans, has been the target of choice."
Your new home page is only a little better. Now you have summaries and links to Rachel Maddow's series, "The truth about lies about ACORN." That doesn't work either.
How does that help you get word out about all the wonderful things ACORN does and what you've done to deal with the events that began this torrent? Fighting Fox with reporters who agree with you isn't going to make this crisis go away. The Institute for Crisis Management defines news simply as "conflict." If there's no conflict, there's no news. Your PR people should be telling you to find ways to deliver your key messages to your key stakeholders. Identify your stakeholders -- it's not the media -- develop key talking points you want them to know, and then decide the best media to deliver your messages. A message of "Fox is a conservative and corporate shill," doesn't serve your interests.
Please, Ms. Lewis. I care about ACORN and the work you do. Change your strategy. Keep your web site current. Hire competent consultants. And no more name calling.