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Politicians say $250K contract not about PR

In Simcoe County
Jan 28th, 2010

By Laurie Watt Midland Mirror
MIDHURST – Just to set the record straight, the $250,000 for a specialized communications firm isn’t for polishing the County of Simcoe’s tarnished image, say some councillors.
It’s to increase communication – and, hopefully, understanding – of the county’s position in the wake of this summer’s Site 41 protests, which garnered national attention.
“A lot of the money was spent for in-house training for staff,” said Severn Mayor Phil Sled. “It was not $250,000 to do (public relations) for Site 41. I’m upset to hear that all the time, and it’s not true.”
Former warden Tony Guergis agreed the misconception is giving the county a bad name.
“I’m tired of the language,” he said. “The resolution was (about) increasing communication. Let’s not have another lousy comment in the paper.”
The PR contract included seminars for county councillors, as well as staff. At a Dec. 15 training session, attendees were given a 26-page “Key Messages” guide, half of which focused on Site 41, including its history, “the sound science” behind the controversial landfill proposal, and a desire to proceed with “moving past Site 41.”
Council approved hiring Fleishman-Hillard – the company that helped Maple Leaf Foods through its tainted-meat troubles – in a private session Aug. 25 after an intense day of discussions that resulted in a one-year moratorium on the dump’s construction.
The wording of the resolution authorizing the expenditure was never made public, although its consequences were pointed out to Metroland North Media. Many councillors then read about the PR consultant in the newspaper.
The next month, councillors went on to nix Site 41 permanently, and also endorsed the decision a little more than half of them had made very late in that August day.
“We were in a very bad state,” Tiny Township Mayor Peggy Breckenridge told her council colleagues in September. “There was a lot of negativism out there. We had to do something.
“Having worked with a PR firm in the past, (I know) you work with them when you’re in a crisis mode. Like Maple Leaf, when they had trouble with their meats. We’re in the same boat.”
The $250,000 cost was confirmed in September, after Oro-Medonte Mayor Harry Hughes asked the county CAO about the matter.
At the time, Hughes also commented that Site 41 would forever taint the expense: “It will always be associated with Site 41. Timing is everything.”

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