Sunday, January 14, 2007

Eric Poulin, Candidate and Controversy

The difference a few days can make!

Running for Mayor
On Tuesday 28 year old Eric Poulin, an aide in the Mayor's office, announced his candidacy for mayor of Fall River, becoming the sixth candidate to announce for that position.

Conflict of Interest
On Wednesday Eric Poulin released a statement to the press describing a meeting he had with Mayor Lambert. Poulin asserts that Mayor Lambert advised him that he would need to resign his position or be placed on unpaid leave. It is the Mayor's belief that there is an "inherent conflict" in his position with the Mayor's office and running for elected office. Poulin indicated in his statement that he disagreed with the Mayor's position and that he would consider obtaining legal counsel.

When is a Policy Not a Policy?
On Friday the Herald News reported that Poulin had been placed on unpaid leave, a move that Mayor Lambert had indicated was standard policy. The Herald questioned the city's Director of Personnel and Training and reported that there is no written policy regarding city employees running for elected office, a point that the conceded but stated "It's allowed by law and it's always been clear here." The letter informing him that he was placed on administrative leave was made available to the press.

What's the view from Battleship Cove?
When Eric Poulin announced his candidacy and discussed his platform on the air with WSAR's Keri Rodrigues I thought he faced two huge challenges:

1. Even though he had been in the Mayor's office for six years he faced a severe 'name recognition' issue

2. Despite his knowledge and experience Eric is only 28 years old and a lot of people are going to consider him 'too young' to be mayor.

Certainly, 'name recognition' wouldn't appear to much of a problem anymore, his announcement and the resulting controversy has practically made Eric Poulin a household name. However, how Eric handles this controversy is going to make a huge difference on how viable a candidate he is, because the reality people don't think he's too young, they question whether or not he is mature enough for the position.

Although some people feel that Eric is the victim of political backroom shenanigans, I personally believe that there is a conflict of interests here and that the Mayor is trying to maintain "The appearance of neutrality". That said I think the Mayor handled this badly, that Poulin certainly could have been reassigned, with full disclosure to the press and that if this is a long standing policy that it should have been documented.

I think the Eric Poulin's employment issues are at risk issue of overshadowing the "issue oriented" campaign he said he wants to run. He's also at risk at letting his emotions influence the statements he's making to the press (as demonstrated by his comments in Friday's Herald News).

Eric needs to refocus the attention back on his campaign and the platform that he has presented. As for the employment question, my advice is he handle is as just another campaign issue.

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