Carcieri and The Memo

Dan Yorke is reading the riot act to the (not present) governor, asserting that the leak to the media of a repair-his-image memo is "a disgrace" and "a watershed moment in terms of his leadership skills." Carcieri, says Yorke, needs to "purge" his kitchen cabinet of the leaker/"double-agent(s)."

The whole thing is very ironic since the governor, as I've written, is Rhode Island's version of the Great Communicator. But the administration's message-control has gotten outpaced by various events this year. 

Writing in the ProJo, Scott MacKay put the memo story this way:

Faced with plummeting job-approval ratings and a looming state deficit, Governor Carcieri is considering a plan to buff his public image by mounting a campaign-style tour of the state and dodging coverage from The Providence Journal.

The plan has come to the governor in a memo from an unnamed group of supporters that was leaked to reporters over the past two days, said Jeff Neal, Carcieri’s spokesman.

Most of the strategies listed in the four-page memo are general and unremarkable, straight out of Political Public Relations 101. Those include trying to spin, or put the best face forward on such unflattering news as cutting state programs and laying off state employees.

As is the case with most public-relations campaigns, it doesn’t recommend any changes in the substance of what state government is doing, just a more effective way of talking about it and advancing the governor’s political goals. For instance, it calls on Carcieri to coordinate an “aggressive campaign” with the Rhode Island Republican Party to “thwart attacks from the legislature, unions and others working against the administration.”

But others are quite specific, such as replacing Steve Kass, the governor’s communications director, a former radio talk-show host with a six-figure, taxpayer-financed salary, and bringing state department directors into a coordinated PR offensive.

Meanwhile, last December, Mary Ann Sorrentino wrote in the Phoenix that Carcieri should consider his own office for savings:

The president of the US, who earns $400,000 a year, traditionally has the top-paying federal job.

In Rhode Island, of course, we have our own way of doing things. Governor Donald L. Carcieri’s fiscal 2007 earnings will be $105,195, less than a number of state department heads (the chiefs at Corrections and Children, Youth and Families are slated to make a respective $158,169 and $141,701) and Cabinet members ($147,072 for the director of the Department of Administration, and $158,242 for the health insurance commissioner). RI’s budget Web site, budget.htm, shows many state employees taking home more than the guy with whom the buck stops.

Those charged with articulating Carcieri’s message to the rest of us (overseen by Steve Kass, a former talk-radio rival of mine) take at least a hefty $500,000 out of the budget. With a fiscal 2007 salary of $118,846, Kass brings home $13,600 more than the governor. Jeff Neal, Carcieri’s diligent press secretary ($94,769) and Michael Maynard, the accessible director of public information ($82,738), ably assist him. Two “media coordinators” split another $61,000, while speechwriter Alysia Harpootian earns $74,588 (a presidential speechwriter earns about $50,000).

Things get murkier when one tries to nail down exactly who does what (for example, Deb Smith, a top Carcieri aide oversees two special projects coordinators, which cost a combined $131,000. One has to wonder, particularly for a governor who touts efficiency in government, does it really require a legion to communicate with the state’s press corps?

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