Cerritos News _______________________________________ DUSD _______________________________________ Bridge

Socialize

ABC District Officials Recommend Board Vote Yes For Public Relations Company With Questionable History

By Brian Hews

The ABCUSD Board will be considering, at tomorrow’s regular meeting, organizations that will help them pass a much-needed facilities bond to upgrade its aging infrastructure.

ABCUSD is being left behind by other area districts who passed bonds two years ago. Nearby Norwalk-La Mirada School District is well into spending and building new facilities after they passed a $300 million bond in 2016.

On Tuesday’s agenda, the Board will vote on whether to retain Piper Jaffray as the firm to advise the district on the financial complexities of the bond process.

Piper Jaffray has 36 offices nationwide and, in 2017, was ranked number four senior underwriter of negotiated long-term transactions nationwide.

The Board will also vote on whether to hire AMN Key Solutions (AMN) for crucial public outreach during the bond process.

Ann Nock, LinkedIn picture.

AMN has one office and is owned by Ann Nock, a former long-time George K. Baum executive who “has represented hundreds of clients.”

But that is where the similarities end between Piper Jaffray and AMN.

A Hews Media Group-Community News investigation has revealed outright fabrications by AMN, a suspect AMN website, troubling conflict of interest relationships, a history of questionable transactions by Ms. Nock, and questionable actions in the ABCUSD bid procurement process.

The revelations should cause ABC Board members to question and possibly table the AMN vote and send out new Requests for Proposals for the lucrative public outreach contract.

Is AMN a Corporation or Not?

On her LinkedIn page, AMN owner Ann Nock claims to be the “President of AMN Key Solutions” for “over five years.”

In emails to HMG-CN, ABC also said Nock informed officials AMN was incorporated.

However, an examination on the California Secretary of State’s website under the corporate search category does not show a corporation registered under the name AMN Key Solutions.

 

Confirmation email from ABC showing that Nock indicated in her RFP that her company is incorporated.

 

Even more evidence that Nock could be feigning a corporate structure to win the ABCUSD contract can be found searching on Sacramento County’s fictitious business name (FBN) website.

That search revealed AMN Key Solutions is registered to Nock as an “individual,” not a corporation, and Nock waited more than a year after she started her company to file the FBN.

 

Nock’s fictitious business name filing showing ownership type as “an individual.” 

 

Individual designations under a FBN are always associated with sole proprietorships and not corporations.

HMG-CN emailed Nock asking about AMN’s corporate registration, she did not respond.

Unprofessional and Suspect Website

On its website at www.amnkeysolutions.com, Nock and AMN claim a host of client provided services including Strategic Communications, Public and Media Relations, Community Engagement, Social Media, and Message Development.

An examination of any competent and reputable public relations firm’s website should show extremely professional design graphics and grammatically correct descriptions of its services and offerings.

Yet the AMN website looks as if it was built by a rank amateur in a huge rush to finish, displaying low resolution stock photos while containing several elementary grade-level grammatical errors and alarmingly short descriptions of services.

The first red flag found by HMG-CN showed the AMN website built on the Shopify Platform, an e-commerce platform exclusively used by companies who upload pictures and sell multiple products on the internet.

 

 

AMN website page showing, on the bottom, that the site is Powered by Shopify.

 

 

Shopify proclaims, “We’re not just an ecommerce software, Shopify is the best e-commerce platform that has everything you need to sell online, on social media, or in person.

An additional red flag showed up on AMN’s featured web page.

Five informational slides alternate in order on the featured page, each with a headline and description of AMN’s different services.

Websites normally allow the user enough time to read the slide and click on the slide if they want more information.

Yet the slides on AMN’s website do not provide adequate time for a visitor to read any of the descriptions.

 

 

Video of AMN website showing time between slides.

 

 

Even more alarming, if a visitor clicks on the slides for more information, they are taken to a Shopify product description page template with blank picture boxes.

A dialogue box pops up and states, “Almost there, add a product now.” Clicking on the dialogue box takes the visitor to the website’s login page.

 

GOOD PUBLIC RELATIONS?: When a  visitor clicks on the slides for more information on AMN, they are taken to a Shopify product description page template with blank picture boxes.

 

Highly Questionable Grammar

Good grammar is crucial in any business situation, even more crucial when someone is first looking at a website for information on a company.

But descriptions on the AMN website shows elementary grade-level grammatical errors that should have precluded most school district officials, those that did research, from including AMN as a responsible bidder.

One sentence on the website states, “Our two-way communication efforts… dovetail with their Public Agencies education and community outreach goals. The correct grammar is Public Agency’s.

 

APOSTROPHE CATASTROPHE: Note the underlined words, “Public Agencies education and community outreach goals.” The correct grammar is Public Agency’s.

 

 

 

Another sentence contains an incorrect use of a semi-colon, “even when we have successfully worked with the same client we begin anew: with a fresh page and a fresh plan.”

 

 

 

Yet another sentence contains an error, “successful proposals presented to voters are those that have earned the publics trust.”

 

 

 

ANOTHER APOSTROPHE CATASTROPHE: Note the underlined words, “publics trust.  The correct grammar is public’s trust.

 

 

 

The errors continue on the first page of the site called Strategic Communications.

The AMN page proclaims, “whether it’s your Public Agencies’s overall reputation, student retention, and recruitment or a ballot issue….

 

 

 

CATASTROPHE CUBED: Strike three, slide showing another grammar error, “Whether it’s your Public Agencies’s overall reputation.”

 

 

 

The second page, Community Engagement, once again contains a grammatical error with a shockingly short 43-word description of how AMN will “engage the community.”

The one paragraph description states, “community engagement is most effective when it is established as an ongoing cumulative process, creating awareness, providing first-hand experiences, and allowing a trust to build and strength over time.

 

 

The correct sentence is, “providing first-hand experiences, and allowing a trust to build and strengthen over time.

Lastly, AMN’s biography pages – written descriptions of AMN’s personnel – show errors, including Ann Nock’s biography.

 Potential AMN Customer…..“Don’t Call Us We’ll Call You”

Typically, a website’s “Contact” page contains all pertinent information of the company including name, address, phone, email, fax of the company with corresponding links to the officers and high-level employees.

AMN’s Contact page does not contain any contact information, including a phone number. The page has a four-line box asking the visitors for their information including name, email, phone number and message.

 

 

Finally, the AMN website does not have any social media buttons such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and a search on major social media platforms shows that AMN does not have a social media presence.

AMN Website Created To Win ABCUSD Contract?

Ms. Nock indicates on her LinkedIn page she has been in business for over five years, presumably with a website, and serviced over 300 clients.

Yet using a well-known internet company that tracks other website’s activities shows something different.

Way Back Machine can tell users how long a website has been on the internet. Users put in the address of the website they are researching and a graph will show dates when the website was first uploaded onto the internet.

According to Nock, AMN started in Jan 2013, yet Way Back shows the AMN website was first detected on the internet in July 2017.

That is over four years after Nock “started” her business, a very unusual circumstance given AMN is a Strategic Communications firm with “over 300 clients.”

Similar Case in Montebello Bond Process

In 2016, HMG-CN reported on the Montebello USD bond process and a company called Dansure, which found that Dansure was a “ghost” company set-up to give an impression of a real company and win bond related contracts.

The Dansure article is eerily similar to AMN and its website as it relates to the ABCUSD bond process.

Dansure claimed “a $45 billion track record of delivering high-performance services in collaboration with its clients.”

But information on Dansure was extremely difficult to find.

$45 billion would have indicated a robust social media presence and marketing campaign via Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.

But no such marketing existed.

The last post on Dansure’s Facebook was a year earlier in 2015, the last Tweet was in July 2015.

Finally, a search on the California Secretary of State’s website showed Dansure was dissolved in April 2010.

Conflict of Interest

Political consultant Al Gafford has been seen often around ABCUSD since early last year, attending Board meetings, events, and large functions.

But Gafford managed Board member Sophia Tse’s re-election campaign, which could cause Tse to recuse herself from tomorrow night’s vote.

Further clouding the issue, Gafford also managed current Supervisor Janice Hahn representative and former Board member Lynda Johnson’s losing campaign in 2016.

Johnson remains in contact with her friends on the Board.

Ms. Nock worked closely with Gafford while at George K. Baum and was criticized for their part in a bond for the Placentia/Yorba Linda School District in a 2015 Orange County Register exposé.

The OCR wrote, “With no public discussion, the school board had hired George K. Baum & Co. and its staff of political strategists [headed by Nock and Gafford] to help push the measure through so the district could continue an ambitious building spree.”

“After the election, the board allowed the bank to sell some of the costliest bonds ever issued by a California public agency. Just one $22 million borrowing from 2011 will cost taxpayers nearly 13 times that amount – $280 million – to repay.”

In an email, Nock told HMG-CN she is not working with Gafford with respect to the ABC bond contract.

But a high-level ABC source told HMG-CN that Gafford is a favorite of certain top officials at the ABCUSD.

Nock also did not answer any other questions posed in the email, such as the corporation question, as of publication time.

HMG-CN sent questions to ABC Superintendent Dr. Mary Sieu, who deferred answering to ABC CFO Toan Nguyen.

In an email Nguyen wrote, “The District, after a RFP process, has recommended AMN Key Solutions to the Board for approval to assist with public relation and strategic communication services. The 1/07/2015 article you referred to in the Orange County Register dealt with the use of Capital Appreciation Bond and George K. Baum, where Ann Nock was an employee until 2012. The District is recommending AMN Key Solutions to serve only as a public relation consultant, and not a financial adviser, banker, or underwriter. In addition, should any bonds be approved by the voters, the District is only planning to issue current interest bond, which has the lowest cost of borrowing to taxpayers, and [sic] NOT Capital Appreciation Bond.”

HMG-CN also sent an email to ABC President Soo Yoo for comment, but as of publication time, President Yoo had not responded.

 

 

 

 

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments