Well, yes and no. It’s inside baseball, but when the flack in question is Pete Piringer of the Fire and Emergency Medical Services department, there’s a bit more at stake. As WTOP’s Mark Segraves first reported, he’s now “detailed” to the Office of the Secretary.
First off, Piringer is tops, absolutely tops, in his business. A former volunteer fire fighter himself, he’s worked for fire and police departments handing the press and public for over four decades. A trade publication recently hailed him as the “pinnacle of professionalism.” Personal experience can attest that Piringer answers his calls, returns his e-mails and is as well informed about goings-on as any flack around.
Secondly, this comes weeks after the big FEMS Twitter blowup. Long story short: The department’s Twitter account, run by Piringer, used to be awesome, tweeting nigh on every major event that might have some public impact. Then it suddenly stopped. This was revealed to have been a result of some unstated internal dissension.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) tried to play down the move in an interview today on WTOP radio, noting that Piringer’s responsibilities in the Secretary’s office “are quite substantial.”
That claim is belied by these facts: Piringer goes from an agency with a $195 million budget and more than 2,000 employees to one with fewer than two dozen employees and a $2.9 million budget. Never mind the fact that Piringer has years of experience in public safety communications, which I would note is of critical importance in crisis situations.
Is a move to the Secretary’s office a demotion? Maybe his duties are expanding, and maybe his salary isn’t shrinking, but consider that its duties are mainly low profile: handling protocol matter for visiting dignitaries, maintaining “sister city” relations, publishing the D.C. Register and Municipal Regulations, certifying notaries public, archiving city records and otherwise taking care of the government’s ceremonial functions.
Piringer’s new home is, with all due respect to the Secretary’s office, akin to Siberia for a man of his talents.
For his part, Gray said on WTOP today that he had nothing to do with the transfer, that Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe was involved in the decision. His communications director (and Piringer’s boss), Lon Walls, did not return calls for comment Thursday.
“As I understand, he has some of the most well developed skills with social media,” Gray said of Piringer on WTOP. “He’s going to be asked to work with our own public information officers to develop their own social media skills.”
If Piringer’s move ups the Twitter game of other city agencies (looking at you, MPD) to FEMS’s previous high level, that would be a good result. Today, Gray’s communications director, Linda Wharton Boyd, said the move does not reflect the administration’s lack of commitment to social media, but quite the opposite. Boyd said she sought out Piringer to help improve social media activities in the mayor’s office and across the government.
“We’re pumping up,” she said. “We’re stepping up our social media activities.”
In an interview Thursday, Piringer, always the pinnacle of professionalism, betrayed no complaints about his new gig, though he said “we could have done a better job in the way it was handled.”
”I have had a long career and number of great opportunities,” he added. “But, you know, this is just Washington, D.C., and I have to say, I’m still in a position of public service, and I think there’s going to be some nice opportunities here.”
Asked if the previous Twitter controversy had anything to do with his transfer, Piringer said, “That’s not for me to say.”
Asked if the secretary’s office will now have a Twitter account, Piringer said, “You can count on it.”