Forest Lake split on PR firm for police issue
A rift between different factions of Forest Lake city leadership on the contract law enforcement issue has been further outlined this month as both sides react to the public conversation surrounding the city’s payments to a public relations firm to handle the city’s response on the topic.
While critics have claimed that the way the city began working with St. Paul-based Zipko Strategy was an attempt to circumvent government transparency, defenders of the move have insisted that the city’s business with the firm is not out of the ordinary.
Public discussion of the issue began Feb. 27, when Forest Lake resident Jeff Gort (who is married to Forest Lake Police Department administrative assistant Lynn Gort) spoke during the open forum at the evening’s Forest Lake City Council meeting. Gort claimed to have spoken with Zipko Strategy owner Mike Zipko about the terms of Zipko Strategy’s deal with the city and asserted that firm was being used to “spin the city’s position toward the removal of the Forest Lake Police Department.” Zipko has been involved with many of the city’s media releases regarding the Personnel Committee’s Jan. 18 request for a proposal from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for contracted law enforcement. If the proposal is approved, the local Police Department could be dissolved.
“I find it absolutely despicable that you are using my tax dollars to pay a PR firm to forward this agenda and pursue this matter,” Gort said. “It is wasteful and unnecessary.”
A video of Gort’s remarks was shared on local social media pages, most prominently by Councilwoman Mara Bain, who posted it to her official council Facebook page.
City Administrator Aaron Parrish said it is not uncommon for the city to forgo a bid process and work directly with private businesses for services, a fact confirmed by city invoices. In the city’s invoice for January, along with a payment of $2,800 to Zipko Strategy, expenses ran the gamut from $221.81 spent at Staples to $3,068 to Verizon Wireless, along with many other expenditures.
“We (work with businesses) for services all the time as long as we can find ways to allocate it within the existing budget,” Parrish remarked.