City of Lakeland defends hiring outside PR firm after sex scanda - WFLA News Channel 8

City of Lakeland defends hiring outside PR firm after sex scandal

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The City of Lakeland has a six-member communication department. However, the City spent nearly $130,000 for public relations work from an outside firm to handle the aftermath of the 2013 Lakeland Police Dept. sex scandal. The City of Lakeland has a six-member communication department. However, the City spent nearly $130,000 for public relations work from an outside firm to handle the aftermath of the 2013 Lakeland Police Dept. sex scandal.
LAKELAND, FL (WFLA) -

Smoothing over a sex scandal that occurred within the Lakeland Police Department came with a big price for the city. The City of Lakeland paid a public relations firm nearly a $130,000 to review news reports and develop a social media plan.

So why didn't the city use its own communications team rather than paying big bucks for an outside firm?

With a six-member communications staff, it can be hard to understand why city money is going to a firm that specializes in the same thing.

Lakeland City Communications Director Kevin Cook said he learned about the PR firm's hire after the fact, but believes it was the right move.

"You want to have a consistent message, you want to have a crisis communication plan, and you hope that your organization will follow it," Cook said. "You look at some of the large crises that we know: the BP oil spill the Tylenol cases; if you have a good crisis communication team, you can weather the storm."

The Lakeland Police Department sex scandal was a storm that shook the city and has the potential for more destruction as Sue Eberle, a former city employee and main player in the scandal, is suing the city.

Cook says the cost of keeping the message consistent could save taxpayers money down the road and the message must go along with the city's litigation strategy.

"There's some that go, '130,000 dollars?' and you explain it and they have a better understanding," Cook said of the reaction since the news broke. "And there are some that just don't want to see any government expenditures. However, if you look at it like this; if we had two more people on our team or three more people on our team, it certainly would cost a lot more than that if you just had three people dedicated to crisis communications that you didn't use all the time. You go hire the expertise when you need it instead of having them on staff."

With $130,000, the department could buy 325 police handguns or 49 bullet proof vests. It could also fully equip a new officer on the street with salary, gun, and computer.

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