27 February 2007

Sneak Peek 28 February 2007

Oh my, oh my, oh my. What an issue.

There's so much to talk about that I'll save most of it for another posting and only talk about one thing right now (I have to leave in 30 minutes for a volleyball game.)

Our two big stories this issue are on the proposed new ordinances for Clark Fork.

Currently Clark Fork has 9 pages of ordinances but, if city council has its way, that's going to increase to a 75 page document.

What a difficult two stories to write. (I wrote one, Jinx wrote the other).

First, I'm impacted by this. If these ordinances are adopted, my property value will likely decrease, because I'll be a non-conforming lot and will be unable to make improvements without becoming conforming. Which I won't be able to do as I don't have the 125 ft of public road frontage required. So I'm not thrilled with some of what's proposed, even though a number of the ordinances are certainly needed.

But I'm less thrilled with the attitudes of city council. I mean, forgive my French, but they're all pissed off 'cause people are upset. And, of course, they're either not happy with me, or won't be when they read our stories. Never a fun place to be in.

But city council needs to pay attention to what the residents of town are saying they want (and don't want) or they're gonna deserve the recall petitions that are already circulating.

Mayor Tommy Shields is one of the nicest guys I've ever met, and I can't believe he would do anything to hurt this community - but he was so un-in-favor of the questions I asked for our story that he told me he didn't think he should talk to me any more without consulting the city attorney. (The Mayor's the go-to guy as far as getting an official statement from the council. Individual council members can only speak for themselves, not for the whole. That's why Tom had to hold the bag on this one.)

I guess I can't blame him because I suggested the council had held illegal meetings. See, I had Jinx go in and request copies of minutes from the meetings where they developed these ordinances. And the city clerk told her (in front of Mayor Shields) that they didn't keep any minutes. Tommy didn't say a word (as in, wait, Jonelle, you're wrong, of course we kept minutes.)
Without minutes, it's an illegal meeting.

I called Idaho Rep. George Eskridge about this and asked him to get an opinion from the Attorney General's office. See, if they held illegal meetings there's a question about how they remedy that. The "remedy" under law is they have to go back and do those meetings legally. But what does that mean? They met for a year and a half talking about this. Would they have to meet for another year and a half - legally - to remedy the situation? Or could they do that in one legal meeting?
Well, Tommy didn't like me pointing that out to him, I guess. And he responded that minutes were certainly kept of every meeting they have. He didn't offer any explanation of why we were told no minutes were taken.

I got this email from him on Sunday around noon, and I told Jinx we had to be there first thing on Monday morning to get minutes - because every cynical bone in my body (which is most of them) didn't like this inconsistency.

9 am on Monday and... there was a note on the door that City Hall was closed. I heard the clerk was sick. I don't know if that's true or not, but the crud is certainly going on.

By Tuesday morning they had minutes (I was told), though when requested they said it would take a few days to provide them.

I'm not feeling really good about this.
If there are good reasons for each and every one of those new ordinances (and I would expect that to be the case for most of them) then the council shouldn't hesitate to be willing to explain to the public just what those reasons are. There's no way the public will support new ordinances without an understanding of why they're necessary. I had hoped to get some of that information for our article, but the response from the Mayor was that ordinances were selected based on what the council felt would be good for Clark Fork. I asked a second time for any objective criteria that had been used, but by then the Mayor wasn't talking to me anymore. And the Mayor is the designated 'voice' of city council.

Anyway.... check out our supplementary blog on the ordinances (www.cforkord.blogspot.com) and see what you think about what's proposed. And we'll keep you posted on the other end of this.
(This posting was modified from the original in order to clarify a few points.)


Anonymous said...

Ms. Gannon, you ought to be ashamed of yourself! As an active member of Boosters, you are not showing the students the proper ways of negotiation instead you use your publication of “approximately 7,000’ to pick the lint off the shoulders of the City Fathers. You instigate the services of Jinx Beshears to help you then involve the same type of opinion from Business People who have advertised with you. Nowhere did you allow for balanced opinion, otherwords intellectual debate. You just left everything to schoolyard bully tactics, which means nothing positive will be accomplished by the residents of Clark Fork. The question is not what you said, but how you and Ms. Beshears said it!

Calm Center of Tranquility said...

I'm not sure I get your point. What, as a newspaper, am I supposed to negotiate? I thought a newspaper is supposed to print the story. A 700 percent increase in proposed ordinances, which a large proportion of the townsfolk don't agree with, is a valid story for a newspaper to cover.

As just about every single business in Clark Fork has advertised with me at one time or another, it would be impossible to get business owners' opinions without quoting some advertisers.

Mayor Shields, as the official spokesperson for city council, was given every opportunity to respond to the concerns of the community, and his responses were pretty much presented in full.

If I wanted to use "schoolyard bully" tactics, I would have used the comments I chose not to use that would have inflamed public opinion further. In addition, The RJ took action (posting the ordinances on the blog and allowing for feedback) to help alleviate the problem in the community - an action which city council could have taken on its own.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response to my post. When a “newspaper” does a three-page spread on a story that concerns less than 14% of its readership it is suffering from a rash.

“I chose not to use that would have inflamed public opinion further.”

I'm sorry lady but you used other people's comments disguised as news to inflame public opinion further and justify it with “the townsfolk don’t agree” and call yourself Dudley Do-Right! This story had spread through town way before you published it. You stated in your article “First, I'm impacted by this. If these ordinances are adopted, my property……” which means every statement you made was bias and slanted. Yet, you still want to call it news.

We may both want the same thing, but there is sure-as-heck a better way of going about it than pointing figures and calling names and making threats and say I’m reporting the facts.

Calm Center of Tranquility said...

Probably every story we print in the paper concerns less than 14 percent of our readership - it's the nature of covering such a wide area. Stories like this one, however, have wider impact because other area communities can learn from what's happened here. And because we print twice a month, rarely is anything we print "breaking news."

I made the point of saying that I live in Clark Fork and therefore will be impacted by this simply to make the point that there is bias in my opinion - there's bias in every story a reporter writes, no matter what people try to say. If someone has even a modicum of intelligence, then they have an opinion on what they're writing.
I have no problem with letting people know my bias right up front - I don't try to hide it.

I'm not sure what you mean by "using other people's comments disguised as news..." Other people's comments ARE the news, especially when the story has to do with a community blindsided by the actions of city council. (Now, don't jump on your high horse here - I'm not suggesting they were blindsided on purpose, just that they were, and that's the situation the council has to deal with now.)

Where did we "point fingers," "make threats," or "call names?" I don't believe we (the RJ) did any of that.

Here's another bias for you... I personally like not just Mayor Shields, but our city council members and ordinance advisor Dave Reynolds as well. I've worked with most of them on a number of projects, and believe they're trying to do what they feel is best for their city. That bias showed up right away in paragraph two of the story. Are you angry about that, as well???

Truthfully, it sounds like you feel city council should not be held accountable for their actions, maybe because you think they had good intentions. That's not how the real world works, and the people of this community deserve a little better than that. Indeed, they're now demanding better than that. The question that now remains is whether we're gonna throw the baby away with the bathwater.

Anonymous said...

Trish, there is lesson to be learned from these blogs. You wrote your articles because you felt you were doing something positive for the community, then at the 11th. Hour someone comes in and rakes you over the coals.

The same thing can be said for the City Fathers. They try to do things positive for the City and its residents. They’ll work on projects and have little or no participation from the community simply because the residents just don’t show up until the 11th. Hour. We are an extremely small City and the only way to get the communication you want from the City is for us to grow in size. We both really don’t want that!

The community hasn’t made any effort to push the local cable company to work on a grant that will allow them to pipe the City Council Meetings into your home. Yet, a great cause the South Journal could beat its chest about.

I AM NOT SAYING that you or any resident isn’t justified in your concerns. Just that everyone has been using 11th. Hour tactics.

It stinks, doesn’t it?

Calm Center of Tranquility said...

Hi again Anonymous (I think... I don't know if you're the same Anonymous from other posts)

I have to disagree with your analogy.

First, we don't print stories because we think they'll benefit the community. In developing our determination of "news" (because we don't agree with the major media definition of news) we decided that "news" is information the public needs to know in order to make the decisions of their daily lives.

Second, Monday morning quarterbacking goes with the territory in the newspaper business. The great thing about the blog is it encourages that (as we only print twice a month, letters to the editor are never going to do the same thing because they're not immediate.) That can get scary when the MMQ comes in the form of death threats and epithets (yes, it's happened more times that I like to remember).

Those types of responses aren't so great, but on the whole, MMQ is a great thing. Blaine Stevens (who was on the school board almost 20 years) taught me that, and it's something I wish our city council could have learned from him as well. I can't tell you how many times we sat through school board meetings going over some new policy or program ad nauseum. And then, after months of discussion, 200 people would show up all p'd off and we'd go through it again. And it never bothered Blaine. Finally, I asked him one time why and he said "I've never learned anything from people who believed everything I believe." For Blaine, he would never pass up an opportunity to learn something new, and he saw those opportunities everywhere. He also never believed that he had all the answers, and therefore couldn't benefit from hearing what other people had to say.

So viva the Monday morning quarterbacking!

The cable idea is a good one (see, I'm learning too - I don't have television, so it's an idea I never would have thought of myself.) The internet is another one, especially as the only cost to the city there HAS to be is time. (Of course, a grant for a fully functional internet site would be wonderful too.)

And as long as we're talking about grants... someone to go after the federal dollars available to bring our water system up to par, and to build a city sewer system, would also be a great thing for council members to put as a priority.

All that said... eleventh hour tactics weren't necessary in the situation of the city ordinances. City council should have known that such an increase would generate controversy, and therefore they should have done their due diligence in getting the word out. If they had done so, they wouldn't be in this situation now. That's a shame. It's understandable - I don't think any of them are particularly politically astute - but it's still a shame. Like I said before, it's not rocket science to figure out how to get people to attend meetings like this.