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UC spent $100,000 on consultant after pepper-spraying

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From page A1 | January 27, 2012 | 14 Comments

The University of California has paid about $100,000 to a crisis communications consultant to assist UC Davis as the campus coped with fallout from the pepper-spraying of protesters.

Until 2010, that same consultant, a division of Marsh Risk Consulting, had ties to Kroll Inc.— the outside firm hired by UC to provide an independent account of what happened that day on the Quad. Both Marsh and Kroll are headquartered in New York.

A senior member of Marsh’s “reputation risk and crisis management team,” and sometimes a second Marsh employee, worked “three or four days” per week on the Davis campus starting Nov. 22, four days after a video of officers pepper-spraying about a dozen Occupy UCD protesters drew worldwide attention.

At first, the senior Marsh staff member acted “almost like an air-traffic controller,” as UCD coped with worldwide press attention, according to Lynn Tierney, associate vice president of communications for the UC Office of the President.

Marsh also helped UCD plan its response to its various constituent groups, including its students and their parents, employees and alumni, she said. Additionally, Marsh contributed to long-term planning work before the holidays and remains on call if needed.

Tierney said that she suggested to UCD officials that they bring in Marsh — UC’s longtime insurance broker and, more recently, a consultant on emergency planning. She did so because the campus’ communications office was hit with the crisis during a change in leadership, she said.

“(Marsh employees) weren’t doing the work themselves, they were working with the folks at Davis to make sure the information flow was timely and that it was all accurate and cleared,” Tierney said on Thursday.

“In that situation, when you have the kind of worldwide attention they had at Davis, it would be easy to put out misinformation if it wasn’t well-contained. We wanted to make sure we got the most timely information to the right audiences.”

Claudia Morain, director of UCD News Service, said having a consultant on hand was helpful.

“The demands on our unit were unprecedented,” she said. “We had global media calling us so it was valuable to have someone come in and help us try to stay on top of the media crush and get all of our other work done.”

Marsh has performed risk-consulting work for UC since 2009, Tierney said, working on projects as varied as providing training in earthquake preparedness and evaluating UC’s response to the H1N1 flu outbreak. A different division of the company recently compiled a review of student health centers.

Both Marsh and Kroll were part of Marsh & McLennan Companies Inc. until 2010 when Kroll was sold to Altegrity Inc.

Former Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton, already working for Altegrity, then became Kroll’s chairman.

UC President Mark Yudof chose Bratton and Kroll to handle the fact-finding into the pepper-spraying. That report is to be the basis for recommendations made by a task force led by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, now set for release Feb. 21.

Yudof’s choice of Bratton quickly came under fire from critics, who charged Kroll’s previous work raised questions about a possible conflict of interest.

Yudof has repeatedly dismissed those concerns.

“I’m a lawyer. There is zip, zero conflict here,” he told state legislators in December.

Public records requests for details of Kroll’s earlier work for UC so far have gone unanswered. UC has said only that the firm has provided background checks and security guidance for visits by dignitaries and threatened researchers.

“No,” Tierney said, when asked if any former ties between Kroll and Marsh raised a red flag.

UC Santa Cruz professor Robert Meister, president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations, disagreed.

“How can we know that Kroll’s fact-finding isn’t consistent with the story that Marsh wants to tell if there aren’t safeguards against the permeability of these two entities?” Meister asked. “We won’t know whether the fact-finding is independent of the script.”

Told about Marsh’s work on campus, Carl Whithaus, director of the University Writing Program and among those who’ve expressed concern about Kroll’s investigation, said he and others had noted a “distinct change in tone” in Chancellor Linda Katehi’s letters to campus — especially since her initial message, released just after the pepper-spraying, which some have said seemed oblivious to what had happened.

“I’m not surprised to hear that (UC has) hired someone to deal with crisis communications,” Whithaus said. “The chancellor has been fairly explicit in meetings with faculty about being unhappy with the way her communications staff performed during the crisis.”

The cost of Marsh’s work during a budget crisis is also likely to raise the ire of UC critics.

Marsh charged $375 per hour for its help, running up a bill of “close to $100,000,” Tierney estimated. That money will be paid out of the same UC risk insurance funds being used to pay Kroll, which is charging $300 per hour.

Separately, UCD is paying Van Dermyden Allison Law Corp. of Sacramento $250 per hour and Yorba Linda-based Norman A. Traub Associates $160 per hour to partner on the campus’ internal investigation.

A potentially expensive civil suit by protesters is in the works, but has not yet been filed.

Other even steeper costs may be tougher to calculate.

“One of the unknowns is, what is the reputational damage,” Tierney said, adding, “Hopefully we can get past this and get back to the real business, which is providing the citizens of California and the country with the excellence that Davis has to offer, and that that can become the focus, because it’s certainly been a destructive diversion.”

— Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net. Follow him at http://twitter.com/cory_golden

Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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Discussion | 14 comments

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  • IronyJanuary 27, 2012 - 11:52 am

    You'd think they could have given that money to the English Department, who should have many experts in communicating a message clearly and carefully....It could have even funded seven teaching assistants. Why wouldn't the administration spend this money in-house? Oh wait, sorry, just read the December news blurbs. Nevermind.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Education is Risky BusinessJanuary 27, 2012 - 12:47 pm

    If reasonable people were to see "Risk Management Insurance" as a $100K item line expense to protect people at a major CA university from harm, I don't think anyone would object to the insurance costs in managing the physical risk to UCD persons at their jobs, or to students at their school. However, in this case, "Risk Management Insurance" really means safe-guarding the reputations of the people who run the university. The crisis for them is not the pepper spray (harm to students), but the perception of pepper spray(harm to their reputations). This breech marks another disappointing, unethical misuse of public funds AND a cynical abuse of expensive language manipulators by the UCD administration.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Greg GoodknightJanuary 30, 2012 - 12:50 am

    Let us known when Officer Spraycan enters jail, stripped of his pension.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • casperJanuary 30, 2012 - 3:02 pm

    in their little world of committees, job titles, and self importance, the true meaning of ivory tower is the suits who run the university, not the professors.

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  • New UCD supporterJanuary 30, 2012 - 9:45 pm

    This makes me sad. UCD should not have to defend itself against appropriate steps taken to control a crowd. Those kids shouldn't have been there, they were in violation of the time ordinance for being in the quad, they were asked to leave several times, they were threatened and they still chose to stay. If they had been shot, I would be with everyone else on this but they weren't. They were pepper sprayed, the next step in getting them to move. Quit whining California! I for one was glad to see it happen. Makes me want to go to UCD.

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  • Wow.January 30, 2012 - 10:05 pm

    You were "glad" to see policemen use illegal excessive force against people peacefully taking advantage of their First Amendment rights. Sadist.

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  • WoweeJanuary 31, 2012 - 10:04 am

    Nothing wrong with exercising First Amendment rights, but don't pretend it was that simple. They also made a conscious choice to protest, and the goal of protesting is to break rules and laws in order to provoke a reaction and draw attention. They got the reaction they wanted, and that's what they're actually "taking advantage of."

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  • JimFebruary 02, 2012 - 1:24 pm

    And in the process, the UC davis police commited a crime against decency. You got that right? What the UC davis police there did was an abomination. It was an assault on moral values, and those who committed such an eggregious assault should become persona non grata on campus, stripped of all benefits, and forced to reimburse everything they were paid after their crime.

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  • OKFebruary 02, 2012 - 5:04 pm

    Listen to this guy, he wants to strip others of their money and benefits but wants everyone else to pay for his college education. Get a job!!!!!

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  • Carla L.February 07, 2012 - 9:38 pm

    The 9th Circuit ruled several years ago that applying pepper spray under the eyelids of Headwaters protestors who refused to move when told to by police was excessive force. Military grade pepper spray it to be used from 15 feet away, not arm's length and not applied directly to mucous membranes. Dozens of people have died from military grade pepper spray used by police in the US - I don't have the exact number handy, but Google it and you can find it easily. It's considered a chemical weapon and is banned for combat use.

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  • howard reynoldsFebruary 02, 2012 - 6:56 pm

    more insanity piled onto the initial misconduct. $100,000 grand down the drain. you want to promote public relations for the u, and restore the image of our beloved university? fire the chancellor, since she refuses to do the honorable obvious deed. charge the officers who sprayed with battery. no charge for that consultation. saved you $100,000, which would fund another administrator for mrak hall. also, not a dime in contributions from this uc alumnus until the above happens. howard reynolds md new york city

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  • John SealFebruary 15, 2012 - 1:19 pm

    And why is Chancellor Katehi still on the job...?

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  • U.C. Davis Pepper Spray Students to Receive Payout | NewsFeed | TIME.comSeptember 14, 2012 - 2:13 pm

    [...] investigative and other fees on the case — and, according to the Davis Enterprise, at least $100,000 on a crisis communications consultant to help deal with the incident’s [...]

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Lt. John Pike Goes Viral (8) « Photocritic InternationalOctober 07, 2012 - 8:25 pm

    [...] Risk Consulting, a “crisis communications consultant” (for which read: spin doctor), hired four days after the pepper-spraying, was paid [...]

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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