Martin County Tax Collector’s Office to Explain “Network Problems”

In a previous life, I was a government communications officer.

If I was still in that role today, and if Ruth Pietruszewski was one of my bosses, I would bang my head on my desk in frustration right now.

In case you didn’t know by now, Pietruszewski is the Martin County tax collector. And for about a week now, her office has struggled to provide service to the people who elected her.

What kind of problem? We’re not exactly sure. How long will it take to fix this problem? We are not sure either.

Last Thursday, the office posted the following on its Facebook page:

“The Martin County Tax Collector’s office recently began to experience a network issue that is impacting the functionality of some systems. As (sic) a result, some services are not currently available. We are actively taking steps to resolve this issue and and (sic) work diligently to restore system operations. “

According to the mail, the collector’s main office at Stuart handles concealed weapon services, the Palm City branch handles Transportation Security Administration services, and a kiosk at Publix on southwest Martin Downs Boulevard handles decals from vehicle registration renewal.

The St. Lucia County Collector’s Office handles Department of Motor Vehicle services for residents of Martin County from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. for walk-in visits and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for appointments. you at its three locations.

Our reporter, Lina Ruiz, was unable to get any further details from Pietruszewski until the tax collector hung up on her on Monday.

A deepening mystery:Martin County Tax Collector Keeps Low Profile on ‘Network Problem’ and Week-Long Shutdown

A disturbing sign:‘Network Problem’ Closes Martin County Tax Collector’s Office for Most Services Without Explanation

Analysis:Voters chose the proven track record of Martin County Tax Collector Ruth Pietruszewski

Ruth Pietruszewski, Martin County Tax Collector;  Joseph Tumminelli, Police Chief Stuart;  Thelma Washington, GWCCC Executive Director and Tom Campenni, GWCCC Board Member # 2019.

I contacted Judy Friend, chief of staff in the office, Tuesday morning to see if I could get more information. No chance.

“We have had network issues and we are working to resolve them,” Friend said.

When I asked when these issues could be resolved, Friend replied, “Soon, I hope. I appreciate your call and we’ll get back to you as soon as we know anything.”

I’m sure this is unfamiliar territory for Friend, his boss, and everyone who works in the tax collector’s office. But in situations like this, it makes sense to err on the side of being as transparent as possible with the public.

At a minimum, the office should provide more frequent updates on social media. Better still would be one or more daily press conferences until the situation is resolved. Or semi-regular press releases. Something.

I know how unpleasant this kind of media interaction can be. When I was communications director in the office of the secretary of state in Tennessee, the computer server we were using to transmit vote totals to the public crashed on the night of an important election.

Were we angry? Sure. Did we feel sheepish about the mistake? Sure. But we put the right people in front of reporters to explain to the public what happened and what steps we would take to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Students enjoy Dr. Seuss Story Time with Martin County Tax Collector Ruth “Ski” Pietruszewski.

We haven’t left people in the dark by playing a guessing game.

This is what happens too often in communication crises: in the absence of real information, rumor and speculation fill the void.

The people who work at the tax collector shouldn’t need to call it back, but the computer system they’re trying to fix isn’t theirs. It belongs to the Martin County taxpayers.

And these taxpayers have a right to know what is going on.

Perhaps there are extenuating circumstances here that are difficult to explain. For example (and I realize I’m guilty of speculation here), what if the office fell victim to a ransomware attack and negotiated with hackers for the disclosure of information stored in the computers in the office?

If so, law enforcement is likely involved. If so, it seems a smart thing to do from a public relations standpoint would be to refer questions to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

If the details cannot be released due to an ongoing police investigation, citizens will usually figure it out.

But basically saying “don’t mind, we’re working here”, isn’t going to cut it.

Martin County Tax Collector Ruth 'Ski' Pietruszewski helped usher in the Christmas spirit at the Hobe Sound Parade.

Most of us only visit the tax collector’s office once or twice a year, so often. However, if your gray card expires at the end of the month and you delay renewing it until now, you might be frustrated with what is happening.

If you are a resident of St. Lucia County and encounter longer queues for service because your tax collector’s office is taking some of the slack for Martin County, you may also be frustrated.

Things could get even more difficult if the issues aren’t resolved until next week, when tax bills are supposed to be mailed to landowners in Martin County.

Pietruszewski, who was elected for her fourth term as a tax collector last year, has already been the target of criticism.

Some accused her of political favoritism in her dealings with her employees.

“These allegations are complete and utterly false fabrications,” she said in a 2017 email to TCPalm in response to the accusations. “Who you vote or support has never had an impact on anyone’s employment status with my office and never will, and will never be factored into any employment decisions that I take. “

TCPalm Columnist Blake Fontenay

Employees at the office were unionized with the Palm Beach / Martin County Police Benevolent Association for about three years until the revocation vote was taken last November.

Union officials expressed little surprise at Pietruszewski’s clumsy response to this challenge.

“She’s dealing with it the only way she knows how, which is hiding in her office,” said Brennan Keeler, the police association’s legal advisor. “It’s normal for her.”

Having never met her, I don’t know. I tried to reach his cell phone number on Tuesday morning, but I haven’t heard from him. When I tried a second time on Tuesday afternoon, I received a recording that her mailbox was full and she could no longer accept messages.

I’ll say this: Being a tax collector is kind of like officiating a sporting event – no one notices you until you’ve really messed something up.

People are noticing Pietruszewski now.

This column reflects the opinion of Blake Fontenay. Contact him by email at [email protected] or at 772-232-5424.

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