Public Relations Move an Error

A substantial number of St. Clairsville residents already are unhappy with city officials’ push toward selling the municipal water and sewer systems to a private company. Moves such as that revealed this week will not inspire confidence in the proposal.

City officials say the water and sewer systems are in desperate need of repairs and improvements. But the municipal government cannot afford to undertake the task, they add.

Instead of trying to do so, the systems should be sold, Mayor Terry Pugh and Safety and Service Director Jim Zucal say. Their preferred buyer seems to be Aqua Ohio, a subsidiary of the national Aqua America private utility company.

Aqua Ohio already provides water to about 500,000 people in 19 Ohio counties. The firm has expressed interest in St. Clairsville, insisting it can make the necessary repairs and upgrades while keeping utility bills at reasonable rates.

Not everyone is enthused about the idea, however. Some worry that once the municipal government loses control of the water and sewer systems, Aqua Ohio will increase rates.

Another heated discussion of the matter occurred during a city council meeting on Monday. Among various topics was the hiring of a public relations agent by the city.

The agent, Jeff Larue, is “working to get our information to the city website, to the fact page, so people (can) go out to our website and look at the facts,” Zucal commented after the meeting.

But Bill Brooks and Kathryn Thalman, two of those who have questioned the city’s plan to sell, were critical of the hiring of Larue — because he also does work for Aqua Ohio.

Zucal does not see that as a conflict of interest. “We’re totally transparent,” he said, adding that Larue is “helping us get the word out.”

Still, concern expressed by Brooks and Thalman is understandable. City officials could have avoided their criticism by hiring public relations assistance with no link to Aqua Ohio.

If city officials want to dampen criticism of their proposal, they need to pay attention to the details and avoid mistakes such as that involving the public relations agent. This is a situation in which credibility is essential.


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