(Morning Call (Allentown, PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 24--Northampton County Executive John Brown has hired public relations and personnel consultants for the county.
The larger of the two contracts is a $84,000 deal with Sahl Communications, a Bethlehem PR firm that last week facilitated Brown's first news conference since he took office in January. It's a one-year agreement.
The two executive orders were issued Friday, days after county council sank Brown's request to hire a business consultant to modernize county finances for $715,000 over four years.
Professional services under $100,000 don't need to be approved by council, according to the county's administrative code.
Brown responded to a call for comment Monday through Kim Plyler, president of Sahl Communication.
"The firm's extensive work in local, regional, state and federal government communications make them a logical choice to assist in these areas and help provide transparent communication to our more than 2,000 internal employees and the more than 300,000 people in Northampton County," he said in a statement.
Sahl Communications will provide strategic planning and support for media relations, internal communications and public relations strategies for the county, he said.
The new executive's administration has taken a few hits in the past few weeks, including Brown's ill-fated appointment of a judge's husband as chief public defender, and the torpedoed business consultant contract.
Plyler coordinated a news conference Wednesday that Brown said was called to discuss his media policy and other topics. He said at that news conference that the county suffered from archaic government practices, outmoded operations and insufficient communications tools.
The language in the contract spelling out Sahl Communications' scope of services is vague, but includes providing project costs and timelines and advising on "internal approval processes, including partner review." The document doesn't specify the extent of the county's PR campaign.
Sahl Communications describes itself as a full-service communications firm with 24 years of experience in government, corporate, nonprofit and political campaigns.
Councilman Lamont McClure, who was also critical of Brown's previous consultant agreement, said $84,000 for a one-year contract for PR services "borders on outrageous."
"Mr. Brown is smart. He's working hard to learn county issues. But he's trying to learn to swim in the deep end, and he's looking for a life preserver," McClure said. "The fact is that in the history of [the home rule charter] an executive has never hired an outside PR firm to communicate with the public."
A second contract with Integrity Personnel calls on the Allentown company to do a strategic assessment of the structure, work flow, policies and practices of the county's workforce.
"Our employees are our greatest asset and we want to ensure the continuation of a great workforce, which enables us to continue to enhance the services we provide to the community," Brown said in a statement.
The company will be paid up to $24,000 for the three-month contract that expires May 14.
Council President Peg Ferraro said Monday that the county could benefit from a review of its staffing levels throughout county departments, but declined to say more until she looked into the contract.
Just last week council rejected Brown's plan to hire a financial consultant to overhaul the county's financial systems and budgeting procedures. Council members scoffed at the price tag, criticized Brown for not putting the contract out competitively, and ultimately pulled it from their meeting when it became clear there weren't enough votes to pass it.
He described the consultant contract as one of his innovative solutions needed to restore "fiscal sanity" and cope with years of flat revenues, skyrocketing health care and benefits costs, failing infrastructure and dwindling reserve funds.
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