Good PR isn’t an accident: it’s a matter of finding the right people to carry your best message to an audience that needs to hear it.

As much as we tout PR as an essential element of any campaign, there are times when the “silent support” can bite you in the hiney.

Take the situation brewing in Jefferson County, Alabama.

The county is already under fire for runaway sewer rates and unnecessary upgrades, and several members of the sewer department are under federal indictment for kickbacks. That’s the climate you need to understand the following:

A year ago, after a number of public miscues (and before the fraud charges) the county decided to contract with PR firms to help with messaging and strategy. Among other things, the firms are creating a media database, logging media hits, and publishing newsletters for neighborhoods.

Except now we find out those same firms may have been used to promote a referendum on a 1-cent sales tax increase — and paid with public funds to do so.

Oops.

The county is in a real pickle, because there is a paper trail showing that the PR firms had started work on the project before any votes to proceed, and before the notion had gone public.

Oops oops.

Part two runs in Wednesday’ Birmingham Post-Herald — and I’ll keep plumbing this story for object lessons. (Such as, there are times as a PR practitioner that you need to recognize the potential for conflict of interest, and know that your mere presence could be a liability.)

Update: Part two of the series.