by Frank Lewis
With the Cuyahoga County government transition process picking up pace, the Plain Dealer's Henry Gomez reports today that three communications firms remain in the running to the promote transition work and handle media calls.
Gomez raises some intriguing points in his article. First, he notes how transition executive committee members — other than Cuyahoga County Administrator Jim McCafferty and former Parma Heights Mayor Marty Zanotti — continue to pass on interview requests. Those individuals include Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson; University Hospitals president/CEO Tom Zenty; Eaton Corp. chairman/CEO Alexander "Sandy" Cutler; Cuyahoga Community College President Jerry Sue Thornton; and Randy McShepard, a public affairs executive with Medina-based RPM International.
Zanotti and McCafferty have been responsive to the media so far, but said they need help. Some critics have voiced concerns that a PR firm would simply try to spin messages to an already distrustful public.
The three firms vying for the transition contract include Burges & Burges, Landau Public Relations and Lesic & Camper Communications. Those firms and two others were vetted in a public transition work session this week. The money to pay for the firm will come from business leaders and not from taxpayers; the vetting gesture appears to be more about establishing public confidence than anything else.
Gomez also notes that two of the remaining firms could be eliminated if they decide to remain in the political arena, where they do extensive work. Burges & Burges handled political strategy for the successful Issue 6 campaign that ultimately created the county's new government. Lesic & Camper works with the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the business coalition that was an instrumental force in the Issue 6 campaign (the coalition, made up of area CEO's, fronted $100,000 for the Issue 6 petition drive.) The firm, led by former Mike White press secretary Nancy Lesic, has already helped coordinate media interviews for the transition.
Lesic was also the mastermind of a public-relations stunt that enraged community activists in 2007. Those activist wanted to make the county's Medical Mart sales tax increase a ballot issue. As grassroots volunteers sought voter signatures for their efforts at an Indians game that summer, a small plane flew over the stadium with a banner that read "DON'T SIGN THE PETITION! WE NEED MEDMART!"
The sales tax increase ultimately did not get to the ballot. — Damian Guevara