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Suffolk board hires PR firm to help repair trustees’ image

Suffolk University trustees have hired public relations firm Rasky Baerlein to help repair their image after a three-week standoff between the board and President Margaret McKenna, a board member said Friday.

The firm will work exclusively for the board and will be paid by the university, according to trustee Jim Morris. He said the goal is to repair the board’s image and make sure the trustees’ side of the story is told. He said he did not know the cost of the arrangement.

A contract had not been signed Friday morning but was close to being finalized, Morris said.

“It’s not to declare war against her or anything like that. Everybody wants to calm this thing down,” Morris said. “I think we’re on the verge of detente.”

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Some students, faculty, and alumni criticized the hiring and questioned whether it is a good use of university money.

The hiring comes after McKenna made public comments criticizing the board and after she fired longtime Suffolk public relations consultant George Regan, who has close ties to some board members. Regan worked for the university as a whole.

“It’s not about us; it’s about the reputation of the school and getting this nonsense behind us,” Morris said.

The proposal from Rasky Baerlein is for a long-term contract to work for the board through the several transitions it faces in the near future, including the choosing of a new president and new board members.

The firm has already begun to work for the trustees even though the agreement has not been formalized, according to a person familiar with the contract but not authorized to discuss it because it hasn’t been signed.

University spokesman Greg Gatlin declined to comment on the hire.

This episode is the latest in a fight between the board and McKenna that began in late January, when some trustees asked McKenna to step down and said they intended to appoint former state attorney general Martha Coakley in her place.

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The plan largely backfired, as McKenna refused to resign and received support from students and faculty and within the wider Boston community, including Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Ultimately, trustees and McKenna reached an agreement in early February that says McKenna will stay president until the fall of 2017 and board chairman Andrew Meyer will step down when his term expires in May.

During the standoff, McKenna also received outside PR advice from Geri Denterlein and Tom O’Neill. O’Neill’s services were pro bono, according to his firm, and Denterlein provided unpaid advice as well as paid services covered by the school.

But even as both parties attempt to leave the controversy behind, tensions linger.

A week and a half after the agreement was struck, McKenna criticized trustees in an interview with the Globe on Feb. 16. Two days later, a letter from Meyer to the board was leaked to reporters, refuting some of McKenna’s assertions.

It appeared Friday that not all trustees were consulted about the hiring. Trustee John McDonnell said by text message that he knew nothing of the agreement.


Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com.