Michigan governor’s popularity slides; questions arise about new PR consultants

Nearly 70 percent of Michiganders disapprove of Gov. Rick Snyder’s handling of the water crisis in Flint. He pledged transparency but won’t reveal who is paying the two PR firms he’s just hired.

Water’s not the only thing that smells foul in Michigan.

First, there’s a new poll that has revealed Gov. Rick Snyder’s job performance has tanked since the lead-contaminated water crisis gained national attention this month. The Detroit Free Press reported Wednesday that seven in 10 state residents disapprove of how Snyder has handled the Flint water emergency.

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Second, news that Snyder has retained not one, but two public relations companies to guide him through the lead contamination crisis, has raised red flags. Snyder’s repeated pledges for transparency in the wake of the public health emergency appears disingenuous, according to journalists and citizens alike.

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The Detroit News reported late Wednesday that the governor’s tax-exempt nonprofit fun—Moving Michigan Forward—is footing the PR bills. The 501(c)(4) “social welfare” fund isn’t required to reveal donation sources , but it sometimes voluntarily posts information about donors and expenses online. It reported:

A top Snyder aide said [last] Friday that “extreme interest” from state and national media over Flint had led to the hire of Mercury Public Affairs of Washington, D.C., and Bill Nowling of Finn Partners, a New York firm with an office in Detroit. But it was not clear from where the money would come to pay them.

An investigative TV reporter from WXYZ has been hot on Snyder’s trail about the PR expenses.

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Claims of cronyism

Both PR communications firms have ties to the governor’s office , said reporter Jonathan Oosting of The Detroit News. Chief of Staff Jarrod Agen’s wife has worked for Mercury, which bills itself as “a high-stakes public strategy firm,” Oosting wrote. In addition, Nowling—now a senior partner at Finn—served as a spokesman for Snyder’s 2010 campaign.

David Murray, a spokesman for Snyder, attempted to keep the focus on the positive steps being taken to help Flint residents: “Governor Snyder is committed to making sure the people of Flint get clean, safe water they need immediately as well as protecting their health and welfare now and long into the future. Every resource is being brought to bear on helping Flint, and that includes the additional communication help we’ve brought in.”

Brandon Dillon, chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said in a press release:

The people of Michigan have witnessed Gov. Snyder’s incompetent and negligent handling of the Flint water crisis, along
with his penchant for operating under a shroud of secrecy, and they’re growing more tired of it by the day.

Was there any positive news for Snyder’s PR team?

On Wednesday, the governor met with the whistleblower pediatrician and the water expert who originally discovered the dangerous lead levels in Flint’s public water supply, only to be discredited and ignored by state officials.

Snyder appointed them to serve on an advisory panel for three years.

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