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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Employee Press Policy raises questions, drives Mike Russo nuts

The Jersey Journal identified the City's new public information policy and was ruffled it didn't get the memo.  Literally.  The policy will create official channels where city employees must announce their intentions before communicating with the press on city business and a standardized policy on separating professional and personal communications.

Although this is not a novel concept to most companies, for Hoboken the land of the free and home of illicit behavior, this can on the surface appear to be rather onerous.  Sadly, employees have a lot more to worry about than leaking information to the press, clearly an undertone to the policies being prescribed is a shot across the bow it can lead to termination should you go outside your professional duties and feed the beast.

The policy was instituted based on other NJ models, in this case Camden and Bridgeton and Business Administrator Arch Liston used those textbook examples for Hoboken's policy.

This public information policy is clearly looking to prevent abuses by individuals or a Hoboken favorite - leaked misinformation from getting out to our local media where it will be quickly made into a story before actual facts become evident.  As many readers know, Hoboken doesn't have the greatest reporting, it's often of the he said, she said variety.  Investigations and follow ups are non-existent as there's no manpower beyond the story of the day.   Connections between many in the press and Hudson County officials is also too common and those institutional lines are preserved not challenged.  It's almost like a family situation where family members of press even work in public capacities in the County making criticism muted at best.  Other business interests create problems between the role of the press and government.  In Hudson County the relationship is more incestuous than adversarial.

At the same time, the Administration made a mistake here.  It sided with communicating the policy to employees internally but not announcing and explaining to the public at large.  While it may have believed it would avoid unnecessary distractions and criticism, that's a misguided belief.  This Administration is moving on a number of fronts to modernize Hoboken's antiquated way of doing things, often that means snuffing out the old, dark ways.  As an example, MSV interviewed officials during the Tripodi days and stories about employees leaving the job mid-afternoon and going to a bar and calling it a day were not exactly isolated.

On another occasion, a call to the finance office to get an explanation on an issue from Uncle George did get a standard reply three times: "I'm not allowed to speak to the press."  So it's not like the core issue itself is unknown to people working in Hoboken local government.

Mike Russo, he of the other worldly quotes, made some less than compelling remarks about how this creates a climate similar to the Soviet Union for city employees.  Russo's remarks are less than intellectually honest considering his ally Beth Mason is trying to impose draconian Sovietization policies in the City Council and you can be most assured he is backing her on it.  There's probably no one person who will suffer more than Mike Russo and his allies on this updated policy.  He can't obtain information now outside of official channels, not without risking a city employee's job.  His record on leaking sensitive information is not particularly good, as anyone following the Municipal Garage move last year can attest.

Although this does make it more difficult to get leaked information to the press related folks, it does make employees think twice about doing so.  Arguments abound about how this will not allow whistleblowers to direct legitimate criticisms but that's already protected by law.

There's some rather stiff procedures laid out and and city employees who fail to adhere to it will have to think twice.  That's clearly the intention and for the Administration, it's part of a series of moves clearly designed to manage information on many levels.  For an employee who wishes to dip their toe into political waters, it's the equivalent of asking for a shark bite.  Perhaps that's the whole idea.

In the end though, how many of you can speak to the press as a representative of your employer?  Most people would not even give this a moment's thought.  For the Antis (anti-Administration), it's just another opportunity to blow some smoke.  With the money laundering operation of Beth Mason past, present and future in question, it's not surprising Mike Russo would try to get some pixels spilled on this one.  It's damaging to his cause all around.

Below is the actual complete policy issued by the City: