Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It's easy to understand the frustration with the Kenosha News

It's no secret that there's a big chill between Pleasant Prairie village officials and the Kenosha News.

It's not uncommon for there to be tension between the media and government. In fact, so strong was the ill-will between former Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier and the Milwaukee Journal that we used to joke "the problem is simple: the Journal wants to run the city and the mayor wants to run the Journal."

The proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" for the Pleasant Prairie folks was an article a few months back in which the newspaper implied that village trustees may have run afoul of the Open Meetings Law by being present in their group office (a "bullpen") prior to a village board meeting.

The board members said they weren't discussing village business and there's no evidence to refute that.

Since that time both sides have "dug in" and getting either to budge doesn't seem to be in the cards.

So fast forward to today's Kenosha News account of last night's village board meeting:

  • No mention whatsoever of any discussion about the proposed village budget and property tax increase (Village Administrator Michael Pollocoff promised to get the budget information up on the village website and offered to answer any questions).
  • No mention whatsoever of the lifesaving award given to Officer Peter Jung of the Pleasant Prairie Police Department.
  • The lead story was about a letter from the Attorney General's office to perennial gadfly Bob Babcock confirming that board members may provide an immediate response to comments and questions from citizens instead of waiting until the very end of the meeting when trustee comments are scheduled. That's old news. The newspaper reported it last week and the village board responded by following the suggestion I made here on September 13 that there's nothing wrong with a brief response to a citizen's comment or question so long as no formal board action is taken.
  • The major bone of contention at the meeting -- a condominium developer's desire to dodge a village requirement that no more than 20 per cent of the units could be rented out if not sold -- got second-billing in today's story and even then the short-shrift. The newspaper, which previously editorialized about the number of "unanimous votes" by village trustees, failed to report that new board members Clyde Allen and Monica Yuhas vowed to stick to the 20 per cent requirement. This was the major issue at last night's meeting.
  • The newspaper also printed comments by former village trustee Alex Tiahnybok critical of the board's decision to move the time for trustee comments to the end of the meeting. What was left out of the story is that the reason for that decision is that when Tiahnybok and Jeff Lauer were on the board the bickering and sniping that took place during trustee comments often meant that it was eight or nine o'clock before the board got down to the real business on its agenda. (As the person who suggested that change -- which, by the way is the practice followed by the Kenosha Common Council -- I regret if that inconveniences anyone but it seemed a necessary thing to do.)

There's another failing by the newspaper -- and it's a big one.

If village officials want to make access more difficult then it should be incumbent for the newspaper to do as other news outlets have done in similar situations: work harder to independently investigate and report the news.

When Harold Breier was Milwaukee's police chief the police department only released brief summaries of reported crimes to the news media. That meant that reporters had to respond to the scenes of reported crimes and interview witnesses on their own. That often led to better stories and undoubtedly created better reporters.

Pleasant Prairie is a major community in this county and deserves more thorough and thoughtful coverage regardless of whether there's ill-will between the village government and the newspaper.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Let's put this in easy-for-farmers-to-understand talk:

"YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW"

It is in the eye of the beholder to determine when the anomosity between village hall and the Kenosha News started, but there is a big difference --- read on.....

......the Kenosha News is a BUSINESS and a BUSINESS owes no one anything -- the reader can stop buying the paper -- adverstisers can stop advertising--paper dies.

......the village of Pleasant Prairie is a GOVERNMENT (of the people?)---AND OWES the citizens it represents decency and respectable behavior.

This government takes EVERY chance it has to throw spears, shovels, and anything else the Public Works department can provide at the KENOSHA NEWS.

LET HE WHO IS WITHOUT SIN, CAST THE FIRST STONE (or the 1,674th?)

Anonymous said...

First of all, isn’t it somewhat redundant to call someone a perennial gadfly? Being an attorney and someone who also frequently speaks at village board meetings, your choice of adjective to describe my father is disturbing on many levels. While some board members and their loyal followers may be annoyed by some of the things he says, many independent thinking observers are not. In fact, most of the time, many of the attendees agree with him. Even those who don’t agree, especially an attorney, should respect a tax paying citizen’s right to speak at an open public hearing. In fact, on many occasions, including Monday night, even the board itself has said most people don’t come to meetings when they’re happy. My father, on the other hand, does come to meetings when he’s happy. He has always given praise to the board when he has witnessed something that deserves mention. Off the top of my head, I can think of praise given to all involved with Pleasant Prairie Days, the fire department and road department on a number of occasions as well as trustees.

As far as the reasons why the village switched the board comments to the end, you mention Alex and Jeff bickering? That change was made after both were gone. Unless you just want everyone to know that you thought of the ideas first, it’s only your opinion that the comment time was changed for that reason. If I may, for a second, jump to conclusions like you are. Why did they board say they changed the comment time to adhere to the Attorney General’s decision regarding open meeting law. Why didn’t they just say they wanted to get to business first because the board comments were taking too long? Using your logic, they hid behind a vague decision to stifle interaction between the board and the citizens who elected them. Really, I’ll have to take the board at its word here. I was just trying to be intentionally annoying.

Bob Babcock Jr.

Anonymous said...

Gadfly? Like this BLOG? Thank goodness that Bob and others are willing to speak (yourself included) about issues. Mr. Serpe said no one shows up when things are going well. So why was vote 46.4 to 53.7% for President in last election if everything is going so well? 99.99% of the Village residents don't really care because most are transient and know they'll only be here for a short time. Cheers to the Gadfly!

gad·fly· (gad′flÄ«′)

noun

a person who annoys others, esp. by rousing them from complacency

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
RAG said...

Gadfly is used in the classical, not perjorative sense, and I would think Mr. Babcock would be proud of that.

"Gadfly" is a term for people who upset the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions, or attempt to stimulate innovation by proving an irritant.

The term "gadfly" was used by Plato to describe Socrates' relationship of uncomfortable goad to the Athenian political scene, which he compared to a slow and dimwitted horse. It was used earlier by the prophet Jeremiah (chapter 46). The term has been used to describe many politicians and social commentators.

During his defense when on trial for his life, Socrates, according to Plato's writings, pointed out that dissent, like the tiny (relative to the size of a horse) gadfly, was easy to swat, but the cost to society of silencing individuals who were irritating could be very high. "If you kill a man like me, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me," because his role was that of a gadfly, "to sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth."

RAG said...

Bob (jr.):

The suggestion to place comments at the end of the meeting was made before the most recent election.

Anonymous said...

“Owning up to its bad management, the City Council in Ashland, Oregon, has decided to throw itself on the civic version of a therapist’s couch. The six-member council, plagued by bickering, sniping, and profanity at its public meetings, agreed to spend $37,000 of taxpayer money for professional help to learn how to get along.”

Anonymous said...

Obviously you’re smarterer than me or maybe I’m dumberer than most, but when I think of a gadfly I think of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the countless attorneys who go on Fox News and CNN as “legal experts.” I guess the attorneys should be exempted since they wouldn’t annoy us for free. I looked up the definition and it said: To intentionally annoy or always criticize. As mentioned above, about my intellectual shortcomings, I obviously had little interest in Plato. I always thought Plato was a pliable substance of many different colors, but my dad told me that was Play-dough.

As for the board comments, the change didn’t happen until after Alex and Jeff had departed. Also, nobody can deny that most of the people who attend these meetings are there to speak and then hear a response from the board. When the comments were at the beginning, at least half of the people would leave after they were finished. When Alex and Jeff were on the board, what you call bickering, I would call lively discussion. I think the people of Pleasant Prairie have made one thing crystal clear… We don’t all agree and we don’t want our board to be run by the trustees following the Leader. Should leader be capitalized? I guess that’s up to everyone to decide. I enjoyed the “lively discussion” and I think the village benefited from hearing more than one opinion.

Bob Babcock Jr.

RAG said...

Personal attacks and nongermane comments have a short shelf-life here. Sad that I've had to enable manual comment moderation because it's been abused.

Anonymous said...

You seem to be forgetting that the Kenosha News is not a marketing arm for Pleasant Prairie anymore than it is beholden to be the town crier for Kenosha, Somers, Bristol, etc.....

If something is newsworthy, they will get to it. On Friday, they are doing a story on the diesel locamotives parking near the mobile home park.

On the contrary, the village newsletter is a biased, edited rag than can be counted on broadcasting everything positive and nothing critical of the village.