Alex Novak and Lisa Powers on Managing Public Information

(For correspondents’ job titles, please see the “Who’s Who” section at the Right-to-Know page.)

10.26.12 Alex Novak Email to Ford Stryker, Rob Cooper, Madeline Cantu, Lisa Powers, Gordon Turow, Paul Ruskin, David Gray, Steven Maruszewski, Russ Bedell, R. Hollin and Mark Whitfield, regarding their joint presentation to affected residents on October 25:

“I think last night was a success. (There was another disgruntled note from [a resident] this morning, but I think the overall response last night was about as good as we could have hoped.)

I completely lost my bet with Rob about how many residents would be there. I expected no more than a half dozen, and there were 27 total. With 6 folks from PSU and 3 from Columbia, it was a pretty full room.

I thought it might be helpful, going forward, to know what questions were asked and how they were answered (or at least how I heard them). I know none of them were surprises, but there were definitely some themes that seemed more important to this crowed than others. Route selection and inconvenience questions were tied for first. Safety and communications questions tied for second. Gas service was last. There was no resistance whatsoever to the switch to natural gas, and there was no mention of Big Gas.

I’ve also included the general responses that were given (as accurately as I could record them), just so we’re consistent on messaging. I DO think we should have a standard response to the question of why the residents weren’t notified earlier. We were conspicuously silent on that…

Q: Why are the residents only hearing about this now? One week ago I hadn’t heard of it. That’s hardly enough time to react.

There was really no answer to this question from PSU, CG, or the Boro. Isn’t it fair, in the future, to say that we couldn’t go public about the project when it was being negotiated with multiple bidders?”

April 1, 2013 Lisa Powers Email to Russ Bedell, Alex Novak, D. Nusbaum, Ford Stryker, Rob Cooper, Mark Whitfield and D. Cote

“Thanks so much for this information [Columbia Gas Safety Handout]. It’s good to have the facts, as I am not familiar with all of the safety measures that are in place. I think it’s extremely helpful, particularly for allaying residential fears.

After spending more than 25 years in the PR field and watching how these things unfold, I urge you to include this specific information (below) in any handout you provide tonight. I looked at the existing handout, and while it is good on some points, with all due respect it does not exactly address specific residential concerns from a safety perspective. Merely telling residents that you have 24-hour monitoring, without mentioning the technology that helps accomplish this monitoring and the safety shut offs etc…does not give a clear picture of safety.

From a resident’s perspective, this is just the gas company trying to placate them with corporate speak.  I’m sure you have encountered resistance elsewhere, but in State College these issues garner a lot of attention, gain a good head of steam and attract a variety of factions that will organize against the gas world. Given that the Marcellus (natural gas) is already under fire — this is the perfect fight for any number of groups.

I suspect there will be more media in attendance tonight  than in prior meetings and they (media) definitely should have the facts. Local TV will breeze in for a few minutes to capture b-roll (most likely an emotional plea from a resident with five kids whose house is along the route) and then breeze out. They are uninformed and need to have a fact sheet in hand to take back to the TV station so that some facts can make it on the air — not just emotional pleadings that generally do not contain any facts, but make for good TV…”

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3 thoughts on “Alex Novak and Lisa Powers on Managing Public Information

  1. Lisa Powers might be right about the media requiring facts, but are the facts selected by Columbia really relevant to safety, or are they just carefully selected facts that make effective PR? Volumes of detailed specifications address the situation when everything goes according to plan. The problem is that in the real world, “sh*t happens”. Excuse the crudity, but there are far too many variables, ways in which the unexpected can happen, to allow high density energy distribution systems to be placed underneath a populated area. And please consider in each and every recent explosion, the public was assured of safety beforehand. Indeed, we do need relevant facts.

  2. The dis-ingenuousness of Alex Novak’s suggestion as to a plausible reason why residents weren’t notified is completely below the standards of integrity of our University. The suggestion is a clear violation of the spirit of sunshine laws (if they were applicable), but also a violation of any sort of spirit of openness as promised by Rod Erickson in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. Frankly, this suggests an atmosphere of collusion. In light of the debate regarding characterization of a transmission line as a distribution line, and the implications for public safety, these individuals appear to be continuing a pattern of reckless endangerment. In my mind, this is not what PSU is about, and Dr. Erickson should at least reprimand this sort of ‘behind closed door’ attitude and activity.

    • I agree completely with this. Indeed I fully expected to see such a response from Dr. Erickson. The fact that we have heard nothing makes it all seem to have been intentional and willful collusion. I had hoped that perhaps the University had been misled as well. Now I doubt that was the case but would like to be convinced otherwise.

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