FL county's new PR chief sparks concern

NAPLES, FL: The hiring of a former Illinois gubernatorial press secretary has prompted controversy in Collier County. The Naples Daily News has written about the background of John Torre, hired in February as communications director for the county.

NAPLES, FL: The hiring of a former Illinois gubernatorial press secretary has prompted controversy in Collier County. The Naples Daily News has written about the background of John Torre, hired in February as communications director for the county.

Torre was part of the scandal-plagued administration of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan.

Ryan and several members of his team are facing criminal prosecution for a variety of offenses.

Torre, though, has not been charged with any crimes in Illinois and says he has not been implicated in any way.

"The county has hired a PR chief without fully exploring his past, during which he served an allegedly corrupt gubernatorial administration in Illinois," the Daily News editorialized on April 27.

Torre told PRWeek: "I was the press secretary; I wasn't in a policy-making role. The experience I had is what it is. I'm not running from it."

Phil Lewis, editor of the Daily News, noted that some county commissioners had taken the paper to task for reporting on Torre's past.

"We were criticized for looking deeply into it. Our only argument is that's good news- papering," Lewis said. "Our questions were what role, if any, did Torre play in all this?"

After the paper wrote about a plan that would have allowed county staff to spend up to $2 million on PR firms without county board approval of individual expenses, the county scaled back the upper limit of such spending to $800,000. (See related story)

Lewis said the newspaper doesn't object to the county using outside PR help if there is county board oversight and if PR is used to inform the public.

"Are the PR firms to make the elected officials look good or to inform the public?" Lewis asked.

Torre said outside PR help will be used to inform the public about such matters as road improvements and growth issues.

"One of the challenges I'm facing here is coordinating a more unified message for the county" and its 34 departments, Torre said. "The issues down here are growth and traffic."

Government use of PR firms "is an easy target," Torre said. While the county has authorized the use of outside PR help, "it's possible no money will be spent," he added.

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