Says "the City of Portland alone has 84 public relation representatives on payroll which cost taxpayers over $6.2 million (a year)."
Taxpayer Association of Oregon on Monday, October 31st, 2011 in a newsletter
Does Portland really have 84 PR people on staff?
Nobody likes hearing about government waste -- especially not when lawmakers spend most of their time talking about which programs to cut. So, naturally, we read with interest the Taxpayer Association of Oregon's Fall 2011 "Government Waste Watch Report."
We weren’t a paragraph in and already something had caught our attention. The report noted that "The City of Portland alone has 84 public relation representatives on payroll, which cost taxpayers over $6.2 million."
The Oregonian had just published a story pegging the number of state employees working in communications at 125, or 220 if you include managers and people in design shops.
Sure, Portland is the state’s largest city by far, but 84 for the city alone?
The report cited the source for the number as a Willamette Week story from May. We did some googling and found the original article. Just a few paragraphs in and you get the salient info:
"There are a lot of them (public relations employees) — 94 in the Portland area — and their paychecks add up to nearly $7 million a year … these public-relations people work for the City of Portland, Metro, Portland Public Schools, Multnomah County, the Port of Portland, Portland State University, TriMet and Oregon Health & Science University."
Just a couple sentences further and the writer, James Pitkin, addresses Portland specifically: "The biggest PR team belongs to the City of Portland. It spends $2.1 million paying its 28 PR people."
That’s sizable, but it’s hardly the 84 that the Taxpayer Association cited in its critique.
Willamette Week also posted a list of the folks that they identified as being on the payroll in communications positions. We called Portland’s Bureau of Human Resources to see if we could confirm the names.
The Bureau sent us a copy of a public records request dated July 14, 2011 that listed 25 employees. We reconciled the two lists and found that Willamette Week included the Portland Development Commission, bumping their figure of 28 employees. With the PDC, their salaries were closer to $2.1 million, not $6 million.
We called the Taxpayer Association to see what was up. Jason Williams, the executive director, said the mistake was theirs. While typing up the newsletter, they confused the city’s figures with the Portland-area figures.
Still, he said, even 28 public relations employees was too many. "Eighty-four is even too much even for the whole state. If government is doing its job, it doesn't need a press agent."
The fact that Williams admitted their mistake gets the association some brownie points, but it doesn’t change the fact that they were misinforming the 10,000 people who receive their watch reports. And it doesn’t change our ruling.
We give this claim a False.
Published: Friday, November 4th, 2011 at 6:00 a.m.
Taxpayer Association Oregon, Fall 2011 Government Waste Watch Report
Willamette Week, Giving us Flack, May 25, 2011
Willamette Week, breakdown of Portland’s public relations staff, May 25, 2011
City of Portland, break down of communications-related positions, Nov. 1, 2011
Interview with Jason Williams, Executive Director of the Taxpayers Association of Oregon, Nov. 3, 2011
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