PERS spends $71K to give you astro­turf

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - NEVADA & THE WEST - VIC­TOR JOECKS

NE­VADA’S Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees Re­tire­ment Sys­tem has just spent your money to make sure you have a bet­ter opinion of the … Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees Re­tire­ment Sys­tem.

Last Novem­ber, the PERS board hired an out-of-state PR firm to re­view its com­mu­ni­ca­tions ef­forts. One of the goals was to “de­velop com­pelling mes­sages to proac­tively tell the PERS story and get ahead of op­po­nents and the me­dia.” That’d be like us­ing the com­pany credit card to come up with a plan to un­der­mine the owner of your com­pany. As much as the state’s pen­sion sys­tem wants to pre­tend oth­er­wise, gov­ern­ment ul­ti­mately works for you, the tax­payer.

Tax­pay­ers have poured bil­lions and bil­lions of dol­lars into PERS to sup­port gen­er­ous ben­e­fits that aren’t avail­able to pri­vate-sec­tor work­ers. And tax­pay­ers are on the hook for bil­lions of dol­lars worth of promised ben­e­fits that PERS won‘t be able to pay.

If you have a neg­a­tive opinion of this sit­u­a­tion, you’re not alone.

A re­view of 1,750 pages of pub­lic records shows that PERS paid more than $71,000 to Jas­culca Ter­man Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions. The cost in­cluded a “strate­gic au­dit,” fo­cus groups and in­ter­views with PERS em­ploy­ees and stake­hold­ers.

To get a sense of what a waste this was, con­sider the $6,000 spent to in­ter­view up to 12 “ex­ter­nal stake­hold­ers.” That idea makes sense in the­ory. An out-of-state PR firm should get all per­spec­tives on an or­ga­ni­za­tion it knows nothing about be­fore of­fer­ing feed­back.

But PERS ar­ranged just six in­ter­views, in­clud­ing two board mem­bers, a cur­rent re­tiree, a union lob­by­ist and a for­mer PERS ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. So much for “ex­ter­nal.” Only one per­son in­ter­viewed, for­mer As­sem­bly­man Randy Kirner, is likely to have of­fered any sub­stan­tive cri­tiques of the sys­tem. JT Com­mu­ni­ca­tions ag­gre­gated the an­swers to pro­tect con­fi­den­tial­ity.

The con­sul­tants did the 30-minute in­ter­views by phone. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the $2,000-an-hour in­ter­views pro­duced just one per­son who dis­agreed with this state­ment: “PERS has been hon­est with its mem­bers and the pub­lic about the ways in which the pen­sion cri­sis is im­pact­ing the sys­tem.”

Shocker. PERS in­sid­ers think PERS is great. No won­der PERS is so re­sis­tant to let­ting out­side fi­nan­cial ex­perts sit on the board.

The staff in­ter­views weren’t much bet­ter. JT Com­mu­ni­ca­tions asked PERS ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Tina Leiss, “What kinds of me­dia head­lines are you look­ing for? What are the kinds of me­dia ques­tions you want to be an­swer­ing?”

Safe to as­sume “PERS blows $71K in tax­payer money try­ing to make it­self look good” wasn’t one of her an­swers.

The fi­nal re­port con­tained a se­ries of talk­ing points to re­spond to fre­quently asked ques­tions. The scripted an­swers rarely ad­dress the tough ques­tions, in­stead just of­fer­ing PERS’ ver­sion of events. At least politi­cians don’t make you pay for their spin.

In one an­swer, JT Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­structed PERS to use only this mes­sage with gov­ern­ment re­tirees and cur­rent gov­ern­ment

work­ers: PERS mem­bers can re­tire “al­most 10 years be­fore the re­tire­ment age set by So­cial Se­cu­rity.” Can’t imag­ine why they don’t want the gen­eral pub­lic know­ing that.

This spend­ing could just be the be­gin­ning. The fi­nal re­port rec­om­mends cre­ation of a new staff po­si­tion to man­age com­mu­ni­ca­tions, in­clud­ing draft­ing let­ter-to-the-editor re­sponses to me­dia pieces like this one.

So when PERS re­sponds, ask your­self one ques­tion: “How much did it cost me this time?”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.