Bad PR (UPDATED): City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff Fails Ethics Test Again

Wanted: The Community Redevelopment Agency, in charge of revitalizing the blighted downtown and Overtown districts, seeks publicist. Pay: $27,000, including a $2,500 expense account. Only well-connected flacks apply.

After that call went out in April, three firms applied for the job with the agency chaired by Marc Sarnoff, city commissioner, and the man who sponsored law requiring government officials and lobbyists to pass an ethics course. The winner: Karsh Media Solutions, headed by David Karsh, a chunky TV reporter turned publicist. Problem is Karsh already had another job with the city: spinning for Chairman Sarnoff himself, a $55,000-a-year, full-time job Karsh has held since 2008. That Sarnoff would approve hiring his own spinmeister for a five-figure gig would just be is fishy though likely not if it weren't also illegal.* But it seems the commish slept through his ethics class. Again.

Turns out the city code forbids full-time employees from entering into simultaneous contracts with the city because it represents a conflict of interest. (To clarify: The CRA, while closely affiliated with the city is not a municipal entity.)

Sarnoff defended Karsh's contract, saying the turncoat reporter would be a known entity for the CRA. "If you pick up two resumes and one's from California and you happen to know the other guy, why shouldn't you hire him?" Sarnoff said in an interview. Former Commissioner Joe Sanchez' PR Man "was also bidding, so there's no preferential treatment," he added.

Sarnoff says the city attorney's office OKed Karsh putting out a bid, but deputy city attorney Maria Chiaro said it did so only in an informal legal opinion, where it assumed Karsh was only a part-timer.

In late June, after Riptide, confronted him, Karsh backed off from his full-time job. "If I end up assisting the CRA with media relations, I would give up my full-time city status, including benefits, so I could properly focus on any additional responsibilities," he said. Meanwhile, the agency is without a flack. It hasn't signed a new contract because it's arguing with another publicist over unpaid bills.

Sounds like a great gig. 

*Clarification: This post misinterpreted the relationship of the CRA to the city. It is technically separate, even though city authorities play a substantial role in its stewardship.

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