PR debacle: Not-so-secret report topples local police chief

A scandalous story unfolded in my neighborhood in recent weeks. It has all the elements of a made-for-TV movie, which may explain why the rise and fall of Chief David Oliver remained a Page 1 story — and a PR nightmare — for a fortnight.

Chief David Oliver's celebrity included a popular Facebook page and this book, "No Mopes Allowed."

Chief David Oliver’s celebrity included a popular Facebook page and this book.

It’s the story of a man once dubbed “the most popular cop on the Internet.” Oliver, from tiny Brimfield Township, Ohio, used social media and an affable personality to become bigger than life. At one point he had 80,000 followers on Facebook and a hot-selling book. He’d also been the focus of dozens of national media stories, most praising his sense of humor and no-nonsense approach to crime.

It all came apart when the community learned, pretty much without warning, that its local crime-fighting hero was a self-centered bully and a sexist boss who abused his staff. Day after day, the chief’s mistreatment of subordinates was spotlighted in local news media.

The story came to light thanks to a courageous second-year officer named Crystal Casterline. A single mother of 4, she’d simply had enough of Oliver’s physical and verbal abuse. She hired a lawyer and filed a complaint. That complaint triggered the investigation that ended the chief’s career.

A wrap-up story on the fall of David Oliver appeared just this morning in the Akron Beacon Journal.  It provides a fine summary of the past two weeks’ events. Kudos to the ABJ’s Phil Trexler for some tenacious reporting.

Partners in the PR disaster

The chief’s conduct is inexcusable and his banishment from the department justified. But the ensuing public relations disaster belongs as much to township trustees as the chief himself. The trustees’ attempt to hide details from public view began with the hiring of outside legal counsel to investigate the allegations against Oliver. Trustees wrongly believed that using outside counsel would afford them attorney-client privilege, thus allowing them to shield the report from public scrutiny.

It didn’t work.

After reviewing the report, the trustees meted out a paltry 2-week suspension, after which they said Oliver would return to his duties as chief. That wrist slap was all it took for Brimfield officers to call bullshit. Casterline went public with her story in a 3-hour media interview with Trexler. Other officers followed, corroborating the charges. Once the secret was out, Oliver had no choice but to tender his resignation for what he says are “medical reasons.”

Since January 12th this ugly story remained a primary focus of media coverage throughout Northeast Ohio. Why? Because the Brimfield Board of Trustees decided that secrecy was preferable to transparency. We can all be thankful that the press, particularly Trexler and the ABJ, stuck with the story until the truth came out.


I met the chief last year when he spoke on a panel discussion at the YouToo Social Media Conference at Kent State. He was, indeed, bigger than life, and most everyone in the room was captivated by his faux authenticity. It reminds me of that classic New Yorker cartoon: On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.




Career Destination 2020

Most PR guys don’t have the luxury of recalibrating their careers at age 60. Most have been put out to pasture — victims of our youth-driven culture. I’m fortunate to have some control over my career exit, thanks to academic tenure and a union contract. So I’ve made some decisions.

1) I will retire from teaching in 2020, at the end of my 28th year — barring unforeseen variables such as untimely death or another Bush-like presidency that crashes my investments. It breaks my heart to think about leaving this incredible… wait, wait. That’s total bullshit. I can’t freakin’ can’t wait to retire, and with the right incentive I’ll exit long before 2020. Send Powerball tickets. Continue reading

That ‘secret search’ is in the headlines. Again.

When a certain Midwestern state university conducted a presidential search in relative secrecy last year, it rightfully drew criticism from news media and public records advocates everywhere (my summary here). And though none of these media outlets challenged the secret search in court, the university suffered great losses in the court of public opinion.

It was a PR disaster. But on the bright side, it’s one that a new president can use to guide future decisions. Continue reading

NFL’s Snyder fumbles the perfect opportunity

77531-nfl-washington-redskins-helmet-balloonDisagree if you’d like, but using the NFL team name “Redskins” is akin to using the N-word. It’s a racial epithet used only to disparage. It’s not a label that civil and thinking people ever apply to Native Americans.

But Washington team owner Dan Snyder sees it differently. In fact, he even used another N-word to make this point last year: “We will NEVER change the name of the team.” Continue reading

A final word on the Kent State ‘secret search’

As a hardcore utilitarian, I can’t complain much about Kent State’s decision to conduct its presidential search in secret. After all, utilitarians focus on consequences and outcomes — the greatest good for the greatest number. When this “secret search” ended, the outcome was a good one. We like this new president and wish her good fortune.

Nevertheless, I was compelled to criticize the process because it violated the university’s own policies on transparency and likely violated the Ohio open-records laws. The end does not justify the means. Continue reading

Kent State J-faculty joins protest over ‘secret search’

I’m pleased to join my colleagues in a high-profile protest against the secret presidential search conducted at Kent State over the past year. This full page ad will run in tomorrow’s Daily Kent Stater. My original post on the topic appeared April 1.

There’s a simple PR lesson in this case: The business of public institutions is public. Next to the ad I’ve posted links to some local news coverage from earlier today.

(Click to enlarge the visual.)

StaterAd2Akron Beacon Journal April 21

Daily Kent Stater Editorial

Poynter Institute story

A conference that was too good to tweet #YouToo2014

YouTooLogo2Yesterday I attended the 7th Annual YouToo Social Media Conference at Kent State — right down the hall from my office. The organizers, as always, did A+ work in attracting great presenters who focused on important and timely topics. I won’t offer individual shout-outs here, as I would surely leave someone out. I will offer a special thanks to our two keynoters, Andrea Weckerle and Danny Brown. Continue reading