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Seattle Taxpayer Money Used To Bolster The Online Reputation Of Utility CEO

from the how'd-that-work-out? dept

We’ve written previously about this online reputation management thing and how often it backfires. For some reason, there are people out there who somehow think that you can effectively hide your past from the internet instead of understanding both how futile a thing that is to attempt and how horribly it can backfire on you. Celebrities, athletes, and criminals all have been forced to learn this lesson the hard way. But, hey, at least they didn’t use taxpayer money in their attempts.

The same can’t be said for the city of Seattle, which one paper discovered has been footing the bill for two years worth of internet reputation management of a utility company’s CEO.

A newly-published document shows that Seattle’s publicly-owned electrical utility paid thousands of dollars to Brand.com to manage the online reputation of CEO Jorge Carrasco. The document, which was received and published Saturday by the Seattle Times after a public records request, shows that Brand.com charged City Light $5,000 in December 2013.

The report adds that the company actually extended that contract into 2014 and has paid out a total of $17,500, which really sucks considering the utility company is owned by the municipality. Any way you slice it, that sure sounds like thousands of dollars of taxpayer money went to bury some less-than-flattering links about Jorge Carrasco with trumped up positive search results. The most infuriating part of this is that nobody really seems to be able to find anything about Carrasco worth hiding.

It’s not clear what negative stories City Light executives were trying to squash—or whether the utility got any lasting results for its money. Google search results for City Light last week were dominated by news and criticism of Carrasco’s proposed raise. Among the negative headlines from previous years that ranked high in search results was a Seattle Weekly article from 2008 that called Carrasco’s tenure at City Light “polarizing” and described the utility as “beleaguered.”

I mean, people bitching about you getting a raise might not be the most welcome thing ever, but battling that criticism about you getting more money by spending taxpayer money to drown out that criticism may not be the best of plans. Hello Streisand Effect. On top of that silliness, some other folks are getting caught up in the fallout.

“Among the mentions generated for City Light by the deal were blog posts on websites including Huffington Post, which did not disclose they were connected to a paid marketing campaign for the utility,” the Times added. The relevant article on the Huffington Post has since been removed. Neither City Light nor Dana Robinson Slote, a city spokeswoman, immediately responded to Ars’ request for comment. Ars did however put in a public records request for these documents.

Yeah, while rules dealing with what must be disclosed and when can tread into silly territory, this is kind of a huge no-no. If larger blogging sources like The Huffington Post are suddenly allowing unacknowledged paid articles to be posted to their site, readers are going to quickly lose trust. If THP received no payment for this article, which is very hard to believe, they will still find readers questioning what else on the site has been bought and paid for.

So way to go, City Light. Once again, attempts to “manage” online reputations results in everyone being worse off. Enjoy that Streisand Effect.

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Companies: brand.com

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Comments on “Seattle Taxpayer Money Used To Bolster The Online Reputation Of Utility CEO”

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DogBreath says:

Re: Re:

Looks like Brand.com forgot one:


In October 2006, City Council member Richard Conlin received a curious and unsolicited e-mail from someone calling himself “Andy Cor.” The e-mail charged the city’s electric utility, Seattle City Light, with repeatedly awarding contracts to a local company called Lands Energy and, “after spending large amounts of public money,” contracting with consultants from this firm to occupy leadership positions at the agency normally held by City Light employees. Jorge Carrasco was brought in to help change the culture of a beleaguered City Light. But while rates are now stable, Carrasco?s tenure at the top has been anything but.

“These extended, lucrative contracts seem to have disfranchised many longtime employees and failed to improve efficiency,” the e-mail read. “It has become questionable what values these exorbitant contracts bring to the public utility….The repeated turnover and lack of commitment to public services, coupled with lack of responsibility and respect for employees, have contributed to a rapid decline of employee morale and an alarming increase of brain drain at City Light. This may leave City Light ill prepared for the next ‘Perfect Storm.’ The high costs and longer term detrimental effects to the public utility warrant immediate investigation by the City Council.”

Two months later, the so-called “Hanukkah Eve Windstorm” hit, and the agency was indeed caught flatfooted; some residents went 11 days without power. But even before that, the mysterious e-mail, in which Andy Cor is spelled three different ways, caused a storm of its own in the halls of City Light. After receiving a copy, Superintendent Jorge Carrasco promptly called his power management staff? about 20 people who deal directly with the Lands Energy contracts and their consultants?into the executive boardroom. He handed out the e-mail and explained that there was no City Light employee with that name. (He’d also sent an e-mail to the City Council saying Cor’s concerns were without merit.) What followed was the kind of verbal dressing-down Carrasco has become known for in the utility’s ranks.

and this might be worth investigating:

“A short, slight Texan, Carrasco has brought a certain kind of cowboy justice to City Light, unsurprising, perhaps, from someone who earned the nickname “Jorge Fiasco” while city manager in Austin, Texas, the first of three jobs he was ousted from before landing here.”

Why was he ousted?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Guilt by association

All I know is that when I hear that someone has hired a “reputation management” company, I take that as a strong indication that they have some pretty nasty dirt that they’re trying to cover up. I don’t actually need to see the dirt to know this is so — why else would anyone hire one of these companies?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Guilt by association

Reminds me of something I noticed about companies. If they are launching “generic good PR” commercials (read: not trying to sell you anything) you can tell that they are up to absolutely no good at all and are trying to buffer their reputation. See natural gas companies, oil (BP especially), and Phillip Morris. It has gotten to the point that whenever. It is an apparent Freudian slip of showing off their guilty conscious.

Another similar phenomenon I have observed is that if someone in response to a scandal states the goal is “to restore a sense of trust in ” they are irremediably corrupt. They care so little about the actual problem that they appear to be unable to conceive that other people care about it.

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