Saturday, October 09, 2010

Dangerous Liaisons

Thursday's Alexandria Gazette contained a blurb noting that school superintendent Morton Sherman, who abolished ACPS spokesman Amy Carlini's job earlier this year, has now retained consultant Alan Hilburg for a few months to help draft a communications plan and a new job description for the post of director.

Alan Hilburg?

The high-powered PR flack, who specializes in crisis mitigation, reputation management and "personal brand issues", has popped up over the years serving such clients as Leona Helmsley, Al Sharpton, Don Imus, Oliver North, and a Las Vegas casino owner who was fined by the Nevada Gaming Commission for throwing lavish birthday parties honoring ... Adolf Hitler. Mr. Hilburg also lent his counsel to William Aramony, the former head of the United Way of America (located on Alexandria's waterfront), who was ousted after using the charity as a personal bank account to keep his floozies in style.

He was profiled in the Chicago Tribune as a leading spin doctor who "has made defending difficult clients a career."

A former president and CEO of Porter Novelli Consulting, Mr. Hilburg's environmental clients have included Chlorine Council, Occidental Petroleum and Occidental Chemical (he represented them in connection with the Love Canal toxic waste controversy) Shell, Exxon, Mobil, Philips, Chevron, ARCO, BP, Dow Chemical, Lyondell Chemical, Lockheed-Martin, Merck, Aerojet, Raytheon, Johnson Wax, Gillette, Nokia, HP and more than 36 other Fortune 500 clients.

Mr. Hilburg has also worked in the tobacco industry, and while serving as a spokesman for the Council on Smokeless Tobacco was quoted in the New York Times stating: "It has not been scientifically established that smokeless tobacco causes adverse medical effects."

So why has someone with this profile been engaged by a small school district like ACPS to create a trivial communications plan and write a job description? Mr. Hilburg owns a home in our neighborhood but is listed as a parent donor at the private Madeira School. Is he "volunteering" his time like architect Lee Quill or has he been recruited?

And more ominously, does this mean that ACPS is preparing to fall back on spin rather than focus on making solid academic progress?