Good News! But Not Good Enough to Share

Tuesday was a big day for the city of Columbus and its Division of Police. How big? 12.7 million dollars big.  As part of the stimulus package the federal government handed out one billion in policing grants.  Columbus will receive $12.7 million to hire 50 police officers. The federal money will be enough to pay the officers’ salaries and benefits for three years.   The city promises to pay the officers for a fourth year.

This is a huge deal.  The federal government will write a check to pay for what amounts to two new police classes and pay their salaries for three years.  But surprisingly there were no local press conferences and no press releases from local officials touting the windfall. Not a one.  When we asked we were told Mayor Michael Coleman was not available for an interview.

Huh?

The problem is Columbus leaders have their eyes on a bigger windfall – next week’s $100 million income tax vote. Word of the federal money might prompt voters to ask, “If the feds are giving us this money, why do we need to raise taxes to prevent police layoffs?” Politically, the grant was a white puffy cloud with a lead lining.

We here at WOSU and other reporters did ask the above question.  Columbus Public Safety Director Mitchell Brown points out the money will run out in three years but he says the city’s revenue problem is permanent. The income tax increase, he says, is the permanent solution to maintaining the city’s police and fire divisions.

It’s a very good argument, so why not make it in a press release?  WOSU receives close to 200 press releases a day – many of them from local officials. The mayor’s office sends out at least once a week, same for Columbus City Council. Here’s part of one we received from City Council Wednesday, the day after the grant announcement:

Columbus City Councilmember Andrew J. Ginther and Columbus City Attorney, Richard C. Pfeiffer, Jr. have launched the City’s annual liquor permit renewal objection process.

If the city’s annual liquor permit renewal objection process is worth a press release, wouldn’t saving 50 police officers jobs warrant a similar announcement?

Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy likes press releases. The Columbus Democrat sends out about one a week.  But when the heart of her district wins federal money to hire four dozen cops, nothing.

Why the sudden humility?  Recall they were all there in January when President Obama awarded stimulus money to save a Columbus police recruit class.

(It should be noted that Republicans Representative Pat Tiberi and Senator George Voinovich also did not issue press releases praising the police money. Of course by doing so, they’d have to praise the Democratic President).

It’s called managing the message.  But the media managed quite well without the local press releases.  We led with it during many of our newscasts. The Dispatch put it on the front page, upper right, above the fold. The local TV stations were all over it.

All without a press release.

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