Delray mayoral challenger makes issue over city's hiring of election outreach firm

Delray faces questions over election firm hiring

DELRAY BEACH, Fla - Did you know there's an election coming up?

In Delray Beach there is, and the city wants to make sure you know.

Yet the effort is being criticized by some who call it a waste of taxpayer money.

The city has two full-time public information officers.

Yet city commissioners agreed to pay $10,000 to a PR firm to get the word out of their ballot initiatives.

We asked voter Evelyn Bennett whether she knew if there were any ballot questions on the ballot.

"No I didn't," she said.

So last week city commissioners voted four to one to hire West Palm Beach PR firm Connection Strategies - headed by former state house member Mary Brandenburg - to send out explainers: one mail piece, two robocalls, design a website and send an email to what the city calls targeted voters: people who have recently voted.

"I always vote. I vote for everything," said Bennett.

Commissioner Adam Frankel thought the move was silly because city residents already pay two public information officers a combined $110,000 a year.

"When you wait a few weeks before the actual vote, I think it's piecemealed and put together very hastily," said Frankel.

The mayoral challenger - Cary Glickstein - used the opportunity to take a shot at incumbent Tom Carney.

"I think they can understand what the ballot initiatives are," said Glickstein. "We don't need a public relations firm to influence that."

But city hall fired back, telling us that they hired Connection Strategies to remove themselves from the ballot questions which concern things like term limits, the city manager's salary and property taxes.

The PIO also said most of the $10,000 would've been spent anyway because the city would have had to pay for the services the contractor provides.

"I don't think the citizens can get enough education as to what they're voting on," said Carney. "So this was our attempt to get them to understand what these ballot issues are all about."

Carney also insists it's unfair to compare things a public information office does - with things the private firm will do.

These are some materials produced by a firm that also bid on Delray's contract.

"The press office only sends emails to those citizens who actually request to be on the list to receive emails," said Carney. "This was really an attempt to reach a much broader group of residents."

We spoke to another firm that does this kind of work and they say it's quite common for cities with public information offices to hire outside help during election season - because it takes special skills to explain ballot questions.

Delray Beach's election is scheduled for Tuesday, March 12.

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