Saturday, November 24, 2007

Give the Mike to Mike - Why Michael Freeman was essential at the Corral Canyon press conference, and Zev Yaroslavsky and Lee Baca were not

The more I think about it, the more irritated I am at the press conference that took place an hour ago regarding the Corral Canyon fire in Malibu, California.

Since the purpose of a press conference is to impart relevant information, there are (in my view) two qualifications to speak at a press conference:

  1. The speaker must have knowledge about the subject matter.

  2. The speaker must be able to communicate this knowledge.
To cite a positive example, several years ago my employer faced an issue that adversely affected our customers. This issue could be solved by additional research and development, so when we gathered for our annual Users' Conference, we decided to have one of our lead researchers speak to our customers, explain what the problem was, and explain how we were going to correct it. We didn't choose a marketing guy to go up front; the lead researcher was perfectly capable of explaining the problem.

Contrast this to this morning's press conference on the Corral Canyon fire, which featured the following four speakers, in order:

  1. Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles County Supervisor, 3rd District

  2. Lee Baca, Los Angeles County Sheriff

  3. Jeff Jennings, Mayor, City of Malibu

  4. Michael Freeman, Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief
Yes, that's right. The fire department chief, presumably the person who had the most information about the fire, was the fourth of four speakers at a press conference that was about a fire.

This might be understandable if the fire chief didn't speak English or was a purely political appointee, but Freeman spoke perfectly, and has been in office since 1989.

Now to be fair, I should note that Baca wasn't merely grabbing press headlines to ensure that the celebrities knew that he was protecting their homes. He is officially the coordinator of mutual aid, and thus had a reason for being there. However, I still can find no rational reason to explain why he spoke before Freeman.

Basically, the order of speakers at the press conference demonstrates their political clout. In effect, it demonstrated that Freeman, despite his nearly 20 years of service, apparently has little political clout in Los Angeles County.

I don't live in the county, and am not dependent on the L.A. County Fire Department for services, but if I were in a county-managed fire area, I'd be hopping mad right now. If Lee Baca can't handle police matters, he shouldn't be up front on stage and handling fire matters. Let Freeman do his job without impediments.

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