LOS ANGELES: In an unexpected and broad move, the mayor of Los Angeles has ordered all city departments to stop using outside PR agencies. Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn on Monday directed all city general managers and department heads to immediately cease any negotiations with PR firms for "future proposed contracts" and send a list of all public relations contractors and sub-contractors to his office.
Hahn also instructed his administrators to detail specifics of the work being done in any ongoing PR contracts, along with "contract terms and amounts."
Deputy Mayor for Communications Julie Wong added that departments are being asked to cancel any current contracts, unless there is a monetary penalty for doing so.
"If it would be an extra burden on the city to cancel, then we have just asked them not to renew," she said.
The directives came in two separate memos sent by the mayor on April 26th. One memo was addressed to "All General Managers and Department Heads excluding Department of Water and Power, Harbor Department, and Los Angeles World Airports." The second memo was sent to the commission presidents of those three excluded departments, requesting them to put Hahn's directives on the next commission agenda.
Both memos were titled "Restriction on contracts with public relations companies," and contained an admonition from Hahn that"(r)esidents of the City of Los Angeles expect their tax dollars to be used efficiently and solely for the provision of vital City services. When the City spends scarce resources on discretionary services, the City assumes the burden of justifying these expenditures. When the City faces serious financial constraints, such discretionary spending should be eliminated to the greatest extent possible."
Hahn continued that, "(i)n light of the City's current financial condition, the practice of contracting with firms which provide public relations services should be reconsidered. It is a much better practice that, whenever possible, these services are provided by City staff."
Wong said that the decision was based solely on budget constraints, and was in no way connected to recent controversy surrounding city contracts with Fleishman-Hillard.
However, local PR industry insiders scoffed at that idea, pointing to mounting political and media attention on the mayor regarding both the awarding of city contracts, and Fleishman's work with the Department of Water and Power (DWP) and the Harbor Department. Recent media coverage has suggested that Hahn's re-election efforts could be damaged by the ongoing debate.
Fleishman last week announced that it was bowing out of its contracts with the DWP and Harbor, as well as canceling an ongoing but little-used contract with Los Angeles World Airports.
Fleishman spokesman Richard Kline was not immediately available for comment.
However, other Los Angeles PR professionals expressed worry that Hahn's actions could prove to be an image problem for the entire L.A. PR industry.
"It's unfortunate that an action like this could paint the industry with a broad brush and give the impression that there is no useful and productive work done for the city of Los Angeles by public relations firms," said president of Weber Shandwick California Joe Kessler.