Monday, June 4, 2007

In Paramus: Pesticides, Politics and bad PR

The Bergen Record had a journalistic field day last week, reporting on how Paramus (NJ) school officials had failed to tell parents about pesticides found in soil on the grounds of a middle school. Parents went nuts when they heard that the school district was aware of the problem for five months before disclosing the news.

At this point, any public relations practitioner would have advised school officials to quickly issue an apology, announce that swift steps would be taken to remedy the problem, and promise never again to withhold such information.

But no. Instead, a defensive school official protested that the district had no legal obligation to tell the parents about the potential health problem. Isn't that just what any concerned parent needed to hear?

The resulting uproar became such a hot political issue that the mayor stepped in and ordered the school shut. Governor Jon Corzine followed suit, ordering the DEP to remove the soils ASAP.

Here's the point in the story where calm should return to Paramus, right? Wrong! On Saturday, the reporter who broke the story showed up at the school site with a lab technician to gather soil samples for independent tests. How did the town handle it? They arrested both men for trespassing, confiscated the soil samples and both men's shoes and socks.

We're not making this up. Read it for yourself.

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