BART spent money to spin protest coverage

September 16, 2011 7:26:31 PM PDT
After more than a month of weekly protests against BART police, BART's public relations department is under fire because of new emails that have surfaced.

Around a month ago, BART held a press conference defending its decision to cut off cell phone service on the train platforms during a planned protest. New internal BART emails show something else happened at that press conference that crossed a line.

On August 11, BART spokesperson Linton Johnson asked an ordinary BART rider to step up to the microphone at a news conference about the recent protests.

"Kicking in windows of BART trains and acting like hooligans is not really accomplishing anything," said BART rider Jeff Moore at the conference.

Moore wasn't the only rider BART invited to speak -- he's just the only one who showed up.

As it turns out, early in the day, Johnson sent out an email obtained by the Bay Citizen asking his staff to gather "a large group of customers together who are loyal riders to participate" in the news conference.

Linton told his staff in the email to "make sure they can get to the news conference location safely and on time, maybe get a van or a special train."

Moore provided his own transportation. BART staff wound up chartering two SUVs from a car service, and though nobody ever rode in them, BART still had to pay the bill.

When asked how much BART paid for the SUVs, BART Board president Bob Franklin said the bill came out to $872.

Franklin said the incident was a bad move by the public relations department as it tried to sway public opinion after protests got out of hand a week ago. In fact, Franklin acknowledges BART staff wrote a script for sympathetic riders to read from.

"I do not think it's appropriate to pay to transport people, and also to provide a script for them," Franklin said. "People can express what they want."

Protest organizer Cat Brooks says it shows BART needs to make big changes.

"I find it absolutely deplorable that they can waste taxpayers' money on this effort to deceive the public," Brooks said. "Somebody needs to be in trouble for that."

However, Johnson is not in trouble according to Franklin, who admits Johnson made a mistake but says he still has a job with BART.

Johnson, meanwhile, has been on extended family leave and hasn't returned ABC7's calls for comment.


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