HONOLULU: The University of Hawaii is facing press scrutiny for spending funds on PR in the wake of firing its president.
Local papers are questioning the wisdom of spending public money on PR, what work was actually done, and why the PR person hired is a former boss of a UH official.
The school ran up a $90,000 bill from PR firm QSR-Pacific for six weeks of work requested by the lawyer hired last summer to handle negotiations with the ousted president, Evan Dobelle, according to papers such as the Honolulu Advertiser and Pacific Business News.
QSR-Pacific is run by Richard Zwern, a former co-owner of Communications Pacific, once the largest PR firm in Hawaii, which he sold to Hill & Knowlton in 1993.
Kitty Lagaretta, vice chair for the school's Board of Regents, once worked with Zwern at CommPac (and has since bought that agency from H&K). It was she who recommended Zwern to the board.
The newspapers are asking for proof that Zwern actually did any work on the matter. He is not quoted in any news stories related to the case, though William McCorriston, the attorney involved, told local reporters that Zwern was indeed handling his media relations.
The university has refused the Advertiser's request to release records about Zwern's work.
Rick Fried, Dobelle's lawyer, told PRWeek that he "never heard of" Zwern during the case. "They didn't need [PR help]," Fried said. "This was a legal issue."
The school referred questions to its law firm. Zwern couldn't be reached for comment by press time; McCorriston, and Lagaretta did not return PRWeek's calls.
Besides working in Hawaii with QSR-Pacific, Zwern is currently a director of worldwide training for H&K. Lily Loh, H&K's director of US business development and marketing, said Zwern's UH contract was unrelated to H&K.
"If he has his own consultancy, that's his own business," Loh said.