The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


May 2, 2014

Authority's code of silence | Housing group's mouthpiece shuns media

JOHNSTOWN — To paraphrase the most famous line from the movie “Fight Club,” the first rule of Johnstown Housing Authority’s new public relations committee seems to be “don’t talk about PR committee.”

That might be an oversimplification, but that’s certainly the impression that the committee gave after the motion to form it was approved last week.

We can certainly understand the reasoning behind the creation of the committee. We’ve heard time and time again from readers who are upset with the authority and the problems that exist in the low-income housing that the organization oversees.

Many of the complaints that we hear against the JHA seem to be unfounded – despite years of claims of advertisements in Philadelphia or other urban markets offering free or reduced housing in Johnstown, we have yet to see any proof. Others carry more weight, such as last year’s recommendation by the Johnstown Crime and Violence Commission for a moratorium on the number of Section 8 housing vouchers in the city until the concentration of poverty improves.

With that in mind, the formation of the committee makes perfect sense to us. We understand that the housing authority wants to manage the message that it is sending to the public. Many organizations – even those that aren’t battling negative perceptions – have similar committees. The whole idea behind public relations is to promote a positive image.

We can even understand the logic behind having a single representative speaking about issues related to the housing authority. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development recommends a single representative to provide information about the public housing agency’s programs and operations, according to Randy Griffith’s story in Sunday’s editions of The Tribune-Democrat, although HUD spokeswoman Niki Edwards said in an email “HUD does not have a policy that governs the interaction of board members with the news media.”

In other words, the federal department doesn’t want everyone on the local housing authority speaking publicly about funding for Oakhurst Homes. HUD suggests that only the executive director – in our case Daniel Kanuch – does the talking about such issues.

That’s not, however, what Chairwoman Jean Tanaka said at the JHA’s most recent meeting.

“Individual board members are not to talk to the media,” she said.

No business or organization wants every employee to be able to speak for it in the media, but there should be one representative designated to speak for it. There should be one voice and, absent a public relations professional, that voice often comes from the top of the food chain.

That voice, in terms of the Johnstown Housing Authority, should be Kanuch.

So, Griffith attempted to ask Kanuch about the public relations committee.

“Sorry you wasted your time,” Kanuch told Griffith, who had waited 40 minutes to see the executive director. “I have no comment.”

Griffith attempted to ask two more questions – how the public relations committee could function if he is the only spokesman and what changes were incorporated in new bylaws at the meeting – and received the same response: “I have no comment.”

So, to recap: No one on the PR committee is actually allowed to speak to the media and the one person who absolutely should be speaking to the media about the committee refuses to do so.

Do we have that right?

We’d ask the housing authority, but we’re pretty sure we wouldn’t get an answer.

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Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
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