WASHINGTON — In the days and months after the deadly L’Enfant Plaza Station smoke incident, Metro knew it has a public relations crisis on its hands and hired two outside firms to help spin the news.
Metro spent about $250,000 on the two firms, O’Neill and Associates plus Hill+Knowlton Strategies, according to the Washington City Paper. In March, Hill+Knowlton charged Metro $60,000.
“Hill and Knowlton and O’Neill provided planning support, counsel on the NTSB communications process, and production of passenger communications such as the evacuation safety video that aired on local TV stations. Their fees were paid by Metro’s insurance company and the contracts were completed in full on June 30,” writes Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly in an email to WTOP.
O’Neill and Associates provided Metro with some unique expertise. Peter Goelz is the firm’s senior vice president, but was once the director of the National Transportation Safety Board. According to the City Paper, Goelz charges clients $350 per hour.
But perhaps the most interesting finding is that Hill+Knowlton charged Metro to track the Twitter account of Chris Barnes, better known as @FixWMATA. Barnes is a critic of Metro with more than 3,000 followers on Twitter. Both @FixWMATA and @unsuckdcmetro are two active Twitter profiles that are well-known at Metro headquarters.
“I’m flattered that I’m considered such a problem for WMATA that they have to spend money on me. I don’t say nice things about them. If they fixed their stuff, I guess I would say nicer things about them,” says Barnes in an interview with WTOP.
“I don’t understand why they needed to do research and analysis on me. I’m an open book. My phone number and my email address are all in the profile. They should’ve spent their money on how the public sees their board members. I think that would have been a better use of their money,” adds Barnes.
The NTSB held hearings into the Jan. 12 tragedy in late June. Now Metro awaits the final report, due out in 2016.