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Groton paid public relations consultants $63,000

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published April 21. 2013 4:00AM

You can see why Groton officials got worried when it came time last year to finally go public with the news that the city had gone some $27 million into debt because of its failing cable television business, a money-losing company it was planning to practically give away.

It turns out the anxiety about what to say began when security analysts started to hint of a bond downgrade for the city, related in part to the cable television disaster.

Still, I was surprised to learn this week that city officials turned to a public relations specialist, a firm founded by former Connecticut television newscaster Duby McDowell, to help spin the story of the staggering cable television losses.

When Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith prepped for a public hearing to discuss the cable debacle, she met with the public relations consultants to discuss what questions to anticipate and how to answer them.

"Going into a public hearing on a topic like that, there is a lot of things to talk about," Galbraith told me when I called to ask about a report I had heard of the public relations consulting for the city.

"We knew there would be a lot of questions, and we were not sure we would have every answer for them."

When I asked the mayor for an accounting of how much was paid for the public relations help, she had the director of Groton Utilities call. He said Duby McDowell Communications was paid a total of $63,000 over a nine-month period, and about $16,000 of that could be directly attributed to the cable company issues.

The last payment made was for a bill received in February, and the relationship has since been severed, the utility director said.

I suppose when the cable business caused some $27 million in losses, what's another $16,000 to help explain it away.

The February bill must have included the cost of a press release issued Feb. 1 by Duby McDowell Communications with a statement from Mayor Galbraith.

Curiously, the press release did not include the mayor's first name, an odd omission given that the city was paying professionals to issue it.

The statement from the mayor congratulated the new owners of the television company, who paid $550,00 for a company that taxpayers had lost some $27 million on.

"I wish the new owners and their employees well in their venture and hope our citizens will join me in continuing to support this vital local company," said the mayor's sunny, publicist-approved statement.

In all my years of covering the small municipalities of eastern Connecticut, I have never seen any of them employ public relations professionals.

State lawmakers have access to public relations staff. Congressional offices have publicity professionals. But I don't recall any ever being used by municipalities around here.

On the other hand, I have never seen a city or town here sink tens of millions of dollars into a money-losing business.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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