Fenty's Communication's Strategy: "Just Don't Pick Up the Phone."
Here at D.C. Wire we endeavor to clear up the record when clarity is called for. Such is the call for State Superintendent of Education Deborah A. Gist, whom we unfairly kicked in the shin for evading our requests for an interview in September.
The backstory: Her agency is developing a new advanced teaching credential that would require D.C. public school instructors to demonstrate their effectiveness in order to keep their jobs. The measure is a part of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's so-called "Plan B" to bypass the Washington Teachers' Union and weed out underperforming teachers.
Asked to comment for a Post story on "Plan B," Gist said she would have to "check with Carrie," meaning Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's chief of staff, Carrie Brooks. Under the terms of the 2007 mayoral takeover of the school system, Gist reports to Fenty through deputy mayor for education Victor Reinoso.
Gist was not heard from again, so we assumed that Brooks had nixed the request. But Brooks denied any role in muzzling Gist, so we then concluded that Gist must have wimped out on her own.
Silly us. It turns out that Gist was willing to talk but was shut down by Fenty and Rhee, who apparently believe in responsive, transparent government except when it doesn't dovetail with their stategic communications plans.
According to e-mails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Gist contacted Reinoso and Rhee on the evening of Sept. 3 asking whether she should talk to Post reporter Bill Turque.
Rhee said she wanted to roll out Plan B all at once at a time of her choosing. Talking about teacher certification will "make things very messy, in my opinion," said Rhee.
Gist pushed back: "I think it would be a mistake not to use this opportunity to make sure he [Turque] understands the teacher certification regulations....Given that he is writing for tomorrow, are you directing me to not talk with him for the story and having him write without the benefit of our direct input?"
Fenty settled the issue early the next morning: "Yes. Don't speak with him (and please don't tell him something like. 'the mayor has told me not to speak with you'). Just don't pick up the phone. Mafara [Hobson, Fenty's press secretary] will handle all communications on this story."
November 11, 2008; 11:45 AM ET
Categories: Education , Mayor Fenty
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