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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Mayor took PR firm’s cues

Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession relied on a series of “talking points” developed by a private consultant when he addressed the Spokane City Council on Jan. 16 to explain the importance of a $260,000 “efficiency and effectiveness” study of city government.

The next day, Hession repeated some of those talking points in a hastily called news conference after The Spokesman-Review published on its Web site a leaked version of the efficiency study by Matrix Consulting Group of Palo Alto, Calif.

The study calls for eliminating 100 or more jobs across city government, and is being criticized by union leaders and some officials at City Hall for making recommendations based on inaccurate or insufficient information.

City documents obtained Thursday by the newspaper showed that Hession had been carefully planning an “efficiency study roll-out,” and was provided with elusive responses to politically sensitive questions.

For example, if asked how many city jobs may be lost through the efficiency study, the talking points gave Hession this response: “I consider the people who work for this city our best asset. What we need to consider is how to apply talents where they are most needed to provide the best service to citizens.”

According to the original rollout timetable dating back more than a month, Hession wasn’t scheduled to release the Matrix report until Jan. 31, but later changed the release date to the week of Jan. 22 after coming under fire from council members for withholding the report.

At the City Council meeting on Jan. 16, Hession drew heavily from another document, titled “Efficiency and effectiveness study updated working draft messages.”

The documents were written with the help of the Gallatin Group, a public affairs consulting firm that was paid about $1,400 for helping the mayor hone his message for the Matrix study rollout. One of the principal partners of Gallatin Group is Chris Carlson, who has contributed to Hession’s campaign for mayor this year, and is advising Hession as a friend, Hession said previously.

The talking points suggested this: “I am very excited about the opportunity we have to improve service and provide value to our citizens. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

During the Jan. 16 speech, Hession told the council, “Some of the people are concerned about the recommendations, and we are, but we’re really enthusiastic about the opportunity to provide for the citizens both to get better service and to provide value for our taxes.”

Another talking point said, “We’re here today because we all determined together it was in the public interest to conduct a study to identify better ways to deliver better service and better value to the taxpayers.”

On Jan. 16, Hession told the council he wanted to strengthen the city’s economy “and create better opportunities to provide good customer service.”

When the newspaper published a draft of the Matrix study on its Web site at midday on Jan. 17, Hession called a news conference for 3 p.m. where he defended the decision not to release the study because, he said, it had errors that needed to be corrected first.

During the news conference, Hession repeated a major talking point by saying, “We looked at this issue as a way to benefit the public interest, and to find a way to better deliver service and also to return better value to our citizens for the dollars they give us.”

Hession’s legal department rejected a Jan. 3 open records request from the newspaper seeking a copy of the Matrix report because, an assistant city attorney said, it was a “preliminary draft” exempt from disclosure under state law.

Hession was in Olympia on Thursday meeting with state lawmakers as part of a lobbying excursion organized through the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce. He was not immediately available to comment about his use of the Gallatin Group as part of the Matrix rollout.

Six of seven City Council members also went on the trip.

On Monday, Hession is scheduled to appear before the City Council with Richard Brady, president of Matrix, to answer questions about the efficiency study.

The Gallatin Group also charged the city $1,375 for advice it gave the mayor’s office during an unexplained medical leave by Deputy Mayor Jack Lynch last September.

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