HARRISBURG - Gov. Rendell is paying veteran Philadelphia public relations consultant Kevin Feeley $30,000 for a massive research project to illustrate how the administration's policies have helped ordinary people.
Dubbed by some in the administration "the legacy project," its purpose is to put a face on Rendell's education, economic-development, and environmental programs, Feeley said. The administration, facing another looming budget fight, can use the information to argue that cutting key programs comes with a human price tag.
Republicans on Friday quickly denounced the project as a waste of taxpayer money, but the administration countered that it was worth the cost to help save programs that benefit real people.
"Basically, it's a collection of information that helps make the case that what we're doing works," Feeley said of the project. "At a time when budgets are under stress at the state level - at all levels - it's important for people to know that when you start the cutting game, you have to be careful of what you cut."
Feeley said he was working under a six-month contract that will pay him $5,000 per month for the project as well as other work.
Republicans said the contract was a slap in the face at a time when Rendell was warning of possible layoffs of state workers as revenue continues to shrink.
"Here he is signing a sweetheart deal to do something that he has dozens and dozens of public relations people on his payroll to do," said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Minority Leader Sam Smith (R., Jefferson). "What is the value to the commonwealth of this PR campaign?"
The Inquirer first reported on the effort this week.
Asked about it at a news conference in the Capitol on Thursday, Rendell denied there was a public-relations campaign. "There is no money for a campaign," he told reporters.
Steve Crawford, Rendell's chief of staff, said Friday the governor had not been given details about the project. But he pointed out that the administration has long taken the approach that budget cuts come with a human toll.
Crawford added that Feeley's work was valuable because it would help reinforce that point.
"He's a skilled communicator and he does great work," Crawford said of Feeley. "The value of what he's doing for us is enormous."
This is not the first time the administration has been criticized for an outside hire. Last year, Rendell brought in Philadelphia political strategist and media consultant Ken Snyder to help him with publicity. Snyder worked under a $100,000 contract.
Feeley has a long resumé, including having served as Rendell's spokesman for eight years when Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia. He is now president of Bellevue Communications, one of the top public-relations firms in the city.
Feeley said Friday that he had spoken to dozens of people during the last few months and that his report would be replete with stories of those helped by state programs.
One story is that of an eighth grader from McKees Rocks, outside Pittsburgh, whose school Rendell visited a few years back to announce a state grant for a tutoring program.
That child, Feeley said, told the governor at the time: "We're not stupid anymore."
"That just blew the governor away," he said. "[Rendell] told the boy, 'You were never stupid; it's about having the resources for success.' "
The youngster, Feeley said, ended up staying in high school in part because of the tutoring program. He now has a full-time job.
"These are telling stories," Feeley said, "stories that have had an impact and stories that support the approach that the governor and the legislature have taken. Because it's not just the governor. No one can do this alone. It was a joint effort."