Battle lines drawn over public relations firm move

City Council Round Up
with Cecil Griffith
Stabroek News
January 24, 2000

So Mayor Hamilton Green with support from his deputy Councillor Robert Williams has begun the search for someone to remake the image of City Hall while at the same time being proficient in 'spin doctoring.'

This is a major assignment because there is no image to remake or nothing to spin. It could turn out to be an exercise in futility and a waste of the taxpayers' money.

While I hold no brief for the incumbent Public Relations Officer (PRO), the proposed move which has already drawn the ire of the Guyana Local Government Officers Union could only widen the chasm which now exists between the 'Chief Citizen', his deputy and the other officers of the Georgetown City Council.

It is apparent that the request to the public relations firms in the country to "submit profiles of their agencies showing what services they can offer the City Council" is an obvious attempt to sideline the present PRO and even to get him out of the system. The union, representing the council's senior officers most of whom make up the executive of the union, says it plans to resist "any unilateral or arbitrary decision to single out any department of the council for closure under the guise of cost cutting and efficiency."

The union has said that it is unaware, and rightly so, of any statutory decision of the Mayor and Councillors to engage or contract a public relations agency.

Mayor Green contends the exercise is "part of a massive one to cut labour cost at the City Hall" and that he believes that the PRO department is overstaffed.

It seems that at the next statutory meeting of the council the battle will be joined since a number of councillors with whom I spoke over the last few days have expressed strong reservations over the attempted move.

Anyone covering statutory meetings of the Council, with a keen perception, would have noticed the strong support from certain councillors of a political party for most if not all of the senior officers even when airtight cases have been made out against them for incompetence and in a few cases questionable performances in the exercise of their duties.

A perusal of the minutes of statutory meetings during last year would have proved me right. Over the years sitting mayors have always had problems, some serious, with the council's PROs because in the main they have not been able to gain the confidence of the person who sits in the mayoral chair.

Like in any properly run organisations, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) ought to have a good rapport with the PRO which must be based upon trust and respect from both parties. This important ingredient which is necessary and the key to running a successful PR department has always been lacking in the City Hall environment and it remains so until today.

Public relations, as I understand, is much more than writing press releases and reacting to criticisms from citizens and in the media. In the case of the City Council with its tarnished image and many questionable and controversial decisions taken at statutory meetings, any PRO must be au fait with the functioning of all the myriad sections of the council and above all he or she must understand how the media especially in Guyana operate, remembering at all times that "the facts are only the shadow cast by the truth."

The 2000 budget It seems as though the Chairman of the Council's Finance Committee Deputy Mayor Robert Williams will not be able to present his budget for the year in time for the end of the month, as was previously announced.

Senior officers have been summoned to weekend discussions at the Constabulary's new premises on Water Street to fine-tune the figures for their respective departments.

One of the subheads which has been engaging the attention of the committee is the Mayor's office which has spent more than the $26 million up to November, 1999. The allocation is slightly more than $33 million.

Within this subhead is the PR unit with a staff of five persons, including a research officer, a video camera operator, a secretary and two assistants. Allowances for the Mayor and Councillors up to November, 1999 have been calculated at $5,760,000.

Town Clerk Beulah Williams has sounded a note of warning to house holders to .."put a covered garbage receptacle in your yard or suffer the legal consequences..."

She said that it has been brought to her attention that scores of householders resort to either storing garbage in open containers or in some cases using plastic bags and throwing them on the parapets and even on the roadway. The Town Clerk noted that the fines for littering have been increased and members of the Constabulary have been alerted to crack down on these miscreants. She emphasised that the Council has no obligation to provide garbage bins to householders.

Meanwhile, the council has strengthened its roster of lawyers who will be on call to offer their professional services when needed.

Among them are former People's National Congress Deputy Prime Minister Robert Corbin, Horace Fraser and Emily Dodson. The Council's legal adviser over the years is Robert Ramcharran.

Tit for tat The City Council is now engaged in a legal battle in the courts involving a vendor who has occupied space on the roadway in the vicinity of Demico and sells liquid refreshments.

The vendor who claims that he has permission to occupy the space had successfully applied for an injunction late last year against the Council after his stall which was equipped with seating accommodations and overhead protection against the elements was broken down.

The structure was rebuilt immediately after the injunction application was filed by the aggrieved vendor who according to City Hall expanded the business. The Council has since filed a counter-action. I do look forward to the Council's defence team being led by the former Deputy Prime Minister who is now an attorney-at-law. His arguments could be very interesting.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples