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Archive for July, 2010

Since when do college athletes need PR firms?

July 29th, 2010 1 comment

We’re not going to rehash the ins and outs of the will-he-or-won’t-he nonsense that has become Ole Miss’ pursuit/non-pursuit/whatever it is of former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. There are plenty of other places you can find that out if you aren’t already informed.

What did catch Magnolia Marketplace’s eye, though, is the news that Masoli has hired this PR firm to represent him in his effort to present himself in a more favorable light.

What?

Even though he currently has no team, Masoli is still (technically) an amateur athlete. When did athletes who are (technically) still amateurs start hiring PR firms to represent them while they look for a (technically) amateur athletic program to play for?

Professional athletes have armies of PR people in their employ. So do corporations big and small. There’s certainly nothing wrong with pro athletes and businesses hiring folks to help shape their public image. It’s smart, actually, to do so.

But bringing one on board in the middle of a crisis sounds all sorts of alarm bells. Toyota did it in the middle of the recall mess, after the company’s response to it had drawn criticism for being too slow or too steeped in denial. BP, after their now-former CEO committed some of the worst PR blunders of the past decade, did the same for a lot of the same reasons.

There aren’t many things Magnolia Marketplace loves more than Ole Miss football. And we have absolutely no control over whether Masoli ends up playing for the Rebels. As of late Thursday afternoon, it seemed for all the world that he would. If/when he takes the field, we hope he’s every bit as good as he’s been the past two years at Oregon. And if he helps the Rebels beat Alabama or LSU or Auburn or Arkansas, we’ll celebrate along with everybody else.

But there’s a reason Masoli and his family deemed it necessary to spend what’s probably a sizable amount of money on a PR firm to basically make people think he’s not as much of a creep as he seemed when he got into all that trouble at Oregon.

It just smells bad.

PR 101: Confront the truth, no matter how ugly it is

July 26th, 2010 No comments

One of Magnolia Marketplace’s favorite movies is “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” the ’80s flick that makes rebelling against authority look like a whole lot of fun.

In the middle of it, Ferris’s principal, Mr. Rooney, finds himself in an arcade in his search for Ferris and his buddies. Toward the end of the scene, Mr. Rooney is standing in front of a television showing a Cubs game. The second he looks away, Ferris is shown catching a foul ball, coming perilously close to getting busted for playing hooky.

Mr. Rooney didn’t spot Ferris in the stands at Wrigley Field, but what if he had? What if Mr. Rooney’s hunch that Ferris was a school-skipping ne’er do well was proven correct when he saw Ferris, Sloan and Cameron on TV? All three of them would be cooked. Pictures don’t lie.

We were reminded of that classic sequence Friday afternoon while we were working up the story of MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown being arrested early Friday morning at the Beau Rivage and being charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct. (The charges have since been dropped).

When we reached Brown on his cell phone, he confirmed that he had “just left” the Beau Rivage. In one of the weirdest interviews we’ve ever done, Brown flatly denied that he had been arrested and charged with anything. This despite the fact that his mugshot was sitting on my computer screen while I was on the phone with him. Brown was polite. The tone of the interview never got confrontational, but he insisted he hadn’t been arrested. The whole thing was odd.

Fast forward about an hour, after the story had taken up the top spot on msbusiness.com, and other media across the state had picked it up. Brown apparently decided to abandon his denial strategy and start referring questions about the incident to the Beau Rivage.

Why didn’t he do that from the beginning? Did he think that, just because he denied the whole thing, we would just drop the story all together? Especially when we had his mugshot?

If the first rule of public relations is don’t put yourself in bad situations, the second rule is to aggressively confront the truth when you do, no matter how badly you may not want to. Brown broke both of those rules Friday. Pictures don’t lie. People do.

Ferris Bueller, Brown ain’t.

Categories: Butch Brown, MDOT, News, Politics Tags:

Special session on the near horizon?

July 19th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace got a tip a few minutes ago that there was the possibility of a special legislative session Aug. 13, in which lawmakers will take up incentives for an economic development project.

Phone calls to a few folks who usually know about these things yielded a recurring theme:

No, they all agreed, they had not heard about the specific date for the special session. They had, however, had cross their radar the possibility of something going on in Meridian. In three different phone calls, Meridian came up unprompted all three times.

It makes sense. Toward the end of the 2010 regular session, a bill that would have offered state incentives to a wood products facility in Meridian died. At the time, a couple of people connected to the project said it wasn’t quite ready to take the last step to the altar of economic development. Maybe it is now. Or maybe it’s something else really cool that nobody (other than perhaps Gov. Haley Barbour) knows about yet.

Dan Turner, Barbour’s spokesman, did not immediately return a call to his cell phone. We’ll post what he says as soon as he does.

UPDATE: After checking around, one of the sources we spoke to about an hour ago just called back to say that the Aug. 13 rumor “seems to be true.” There still is no definitive word on whether Meridian is the target. But the Aug. 13 date is looking, for now, like a solid bet.

SECOND UPDATE: Another source we talked to earlier today has been doing some checking since we last spoke, and offers this: “Unless I’m badly wrong, it’s not Meridian.” So that’s the latest. Still no word from Turner, though if/when he calls back, we’ll share what he says. Stay tuned.

Few tears for old 82 bridge

July 19th, 2010 No comments

Aside from being the official birthday of Magnolia Marketplace, July 26 will be a big day. In Washington County, a torch will be passed.

The new Highway 82 bridge that will connect Mississippi and Arkansas over the Mississippi River will make its debut in Greenville. Our collegue, Wally Northway, is working on an advance story about it that will run in next week’s MBJ.

Wally, a native of Greenville, has a more than a few stories about the old bridge, which was built in 1940. Most of them aren’t happy.

For starters, the bridge was narrow. The roadway was only 24 feet wide and didn’t have a shoulder. You didn’t want to meet a tractor trailer on it. Nor was it ever any fun to cross it at night, especially if rain was falling.

Its location on the river wasn’t that favorable for towboats. Captains earned their money negotiating the bend to the north. The bridge has been hit by river traffic countless times.

Economic developers think the new one have a positive impact. Besides having wider roadways, the approaches make it easier for wide loads to cross from one state to another, making the transport of goods quicker and cheaper.

“The old bridge served us well,” Northway said. “But good riddance.”

Categories: Economic development, News Tags:

A look at fundraising in the 1st District

July 15th, 2010 No comments

Besides the final vote tally, there are no numbers more critical to the 1st Congressional District race between state Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, and incumbent Travis Childers, D-Booneville, than the amount of cash each has raised and the amount each has on hand.

With the latest fundraising quarter drawn to a close, both candidates feel pretty good about where they stand.

Magnolia Marketplace spoke to Nunnelee and Childers earlier this week for a separate story that will appear in the next issue of the MBJ.

The breakdown:

For the fundraising quarter that just ended, Nunnelee brought in $312,000. Childers reported $277,000 for the same period. It’s the second consecutive quarter Nunnelee has won the fundraising fight.

“It is more amazing that he has done it with a majority of his funds coming from individuals from Mississippi rather than Washington PACs,” said Nunnelee spokesperson Morgan Baldwin.

Where Childers has the upper hand, though, is the amount of cash on hand – money that can be spent right now.

Childers said in an interview yesterday that he has more than $900,000 in the bank. Nunnelee’s camp said he had $233,000.

Childers attributed Nunnelee’s quarterly fundraising victories to his obligations in D.C.

“I’ve been in session. He’s been campaigning. Matter of fact, he’s been campaigning for 18 months, basically since the day I won,” Childers said. “I’m not concerned about the cash numbers. I feel very confident where we are.”

National and state political experts agree that this will probably be the most vigorously contested Congressional race in the U.S. this year.

The fundraising numbers do nothing but confirm that. Should be an interesting fall.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Chaney, Pickering: Fire rebate cash misused

July 13th, 2010 No comments

State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney have issued civil demands totaling just short of $22,000 to current and former city officials in Sledge.

Current city clerk Yvonne Amos, former mayor Bernard Handy and former city clerk  Mary Allen allegedly misused money the city received from the state’s Fire Insurance Rebate Program. More specifically, the three are accused of taking $13,579 of FIRP money that was supposed to pay for equipment and/or training for the Sledge Fire Department and transferring it to the city’s general fund to pay for recurring expenses, things like salaries, city vehicles and so forth. The state allocates FIRP money to municipalities where fire insurance was unavailable for home and business owners because of a lack of fire protection. It goes mostly to rural areas, and decreases homeowners’ insurance premiums.

While other municipalities have been caught doing this — Pickering mentioned Terry and Isola and Neshoba County — the past few years, what sets Sledge apart is that the three who wrote the checks (Allen, Handy and Amos) were unable to produce the FIRP money once it was discovered it had been misappropriated. Terry, Isola and Neshoba County officials, according to Pickering and Chaney, were able to refund the FIRP cash once the two agencies demanded they do so.

“This is the first case in a long time where people actually spent the money,” Chaney said.

As of now, this is strictly civil matter. Neither Chaney nor Pickering would say whether the three would face criminal charges, though it would seem they wouldn’t as long as the money is repaid to the state.

Categories: News, Politics Tags:

Chaney, Pickering to announce investigation results this afternoon

July 13th, 2010 No comments

State Auditor Stacey Pickering and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney will hold a joint press conference this afternoon to announce the results of an investigation into the possible misuse of rebate funds by officials of the city of Sledge.

Pickering and Chaney will release their findings of their two agencies’ joint investigation at 1:30. Magnolia Marketplace will be there and we’ll have the particulars as soon as they’re available, so check back here around mid-afternoon.

Mississippi music historians will recognize Sledge as the birthplace of country music star Charley Pride. Legend also has it that the town was once home to a man named Leroy Brown who inspired the Jim Croce song. There are some folks who label Sledge as the birthplace of the blues. We’ll find out this afternoon if some of the town’s leaders should be singing the blues. Talk to you then.

Categories: News, Politics Tags:

China investing in Mississippi steel facility?

July 8th, 2010 1 comment

A handful of national and international business publications and blogs are reporting that a state-owned Chinese steel company has purchased — or has serious plans to purchase, depending on which one you read — a 20 percent stake in a Steel Development Corp rebar facility being built in Amory.

While that’s not news by itself, what is interesting is that a group of about 50 lawmakers who call themselves the Congressional Steel Caucus are opposing the move. They wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner last week asking him to open an investigation into the Anshan Iron and Steel Group. The group cites national security and American job interests as their reasons for opposing the deal (if there, in fact, is one).

For the record, there are no Mississippi lawmakers listed among the Caucus’ membership.

We have an email into Steel Develoment Corp. If and when we hear anything back, we’ll post it. Until then, a few more details can be gleaned here.

UPDATE: Verbatim from a Steel Development Corp. spokesperson, who said via email this would be all the company would have to say on the matter:

“Steel Development has a number of investors.  As a private company, it is not our practice to share investor names or the level of their investments.  However, due to unfounded concern regarding controlling interests in our company, we confirm that Anshan contributed less than 20 percent of the total investment in Steel Development.

As Steel Development endeavors to finalize the financing necessary to create 1,200 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs in the domestic steel market, it has come under fire for incorporating this investment from Anshan. With Steel Development projecting production of 350,000 tons of rebar per year in a 120 million ton steel market (less than three tenths of percent), the promotion of national security fears due to the Anshan investment is, at best, difficult to rationalize.

Notwithstanding the extensive political pressure applied by certain members of congress and other steel producers seeking to impede competition by stopping Steel Development’s efforts to build one of the world’s most technologically advanced steel mills, we will continue to focus our efforts on creating jobs right here in America.”

Categories: Economic development, News Tags:

This year’s Viking most important ever?

July 6th, 2010 No comments

Though it doesn’t tee off for nearly another three months, the 2010 Viking Classic has already shaped up to be a critical event for its organizers, its sponsors and the Metro Jackson area as a whole.

If you haven’t already seen our story about it in this week’s MBJ, check it out.

What makes this year’s Viking probably more important than any other is that the contract that names Greenwood-based Viking Range as the title sponsor expires when the tournament ends Oct. 3. This is also the last year of the agreement between the PGA Tour and Annandale Golf Club for the course to host the tournament. All the involved parties are in negotiations to extend both deals.

Nobody we talked to, on either side, was comfortable putting a timetable on when a decision would be made. But it was clear that, at least from the perspective of the local folks, the Viking means an awful lot, and not just economically, even though the tournament pumps an estimated $20 million into the area.

Randy Watkins, golf course magnate and executive director of the Viking, talked for a long time about how much pride he and his team, and the folks from Annandale, take in putting on a good show for the players and spectators. That makes what happened last year — when the tournament was canceled all together by heavy rains — especially difficult for them to swallow. It also makes them more determined than ever to put their best foot forward this year.

A lot rides on this year’s Viking, maybe the future of the tournament itself.

Categories: News, Viking Classic, Viking Range Tags: