Tuesday, September 16, 2008

PRSA Western District Chair comments on Metrolink spokesperson's resignation

Denis Wolcott, current chair of PRSA's Western District and past president of the PRSA's Greater Los Angeles Area chapter, went on camera Monday to discuss the sudden resignation of Metrolink spokesperson Denise Tyrrell following the train authority's quick disclosure that its engineer was at fault in Friday's (Sept. 12) head-on train crash that killed 26 and injured 135 commuters.

Public Relations professionals are expected to adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public. Ms. Tyrrell's boss, Metrolink CEO David Solow, told reporters Monday that he authorized her to disclose that the engineer was at fault and had ignored a red signal to stop. Denise gave the news last Saturday, in a stunningly quick less than 24 hours after the crash. Metrolink felt it had to answer the nagging question: "How could this happen?"

However, the National Transportation Safety Board, which likes to take control of how information is disseminated in deadly transportation crash investigations, quickly responded to Metrolink's disclosure, saying it was premature to assign blame. On Sunday, the Metrolink board of directors, a politically appointed body, met in private and later issued a statement essentially agreeing with the NTSB that it was premature to assign blame.Although not all of my interview with Los Angeles TV station KTLA Channel 5 was aired, I did stress the importance of an organization’s board, executive office and public relations staff working in concert when it comes to public communications and that public relations professionals clearly need to be part of the decision-making process at the highest level. I also cited the importance of an organization making a timely and full disclosure of authenticated information.

Denise Tyrrell also gave an exclusive on-camera interview to KCAL-TV, a local CBS affiliate, here.

Here's the background:FROM THE LA TIMES..." Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell called the agency's chief executive to make an unusual request. "I asked him to allow me to make a statement to rebuild public trust," she recalled, "and I told him we had to be honest and upfront about what happened."

David Solow, she said, "agreed" with her plans to publicly acknowledge Saturday that a preliminary investigation showed the Metrolink engineer ran a red light before the commuter train plowed into a Union Pacific freight train. Her teary comments and surprising candor elicited a flood of encouragement from Metrolink staff members and commuters from as far as London and Vietnam.

By Monday, Tyrrell had resigned her $86,000-a-year post amid intense criticism from Metrolink officials and federal investigators who called her public comments premature and inappropriate.

But Tyrrell, 55, has no regrets.

"When you have loss of life, spinning is unacceptable," she said.

Watch the video which includes a PRSA comment for Denis Wolcott, chair of PRSA's Western District and past president of the PRSA's LA Chapter.

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