David Rodeback's Blog

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Saturday, August 22, 2009
Good People Reporting Badly

American Fork residents own themselves a few minutes to get correctly informed about current cemetery-related discussions. Two media outlets owe their readers a correction and a retraction, and they owe six elected officials an apology.

[An even later addition:] Now It's My Turn to Offer a Correction and an Apology

I have learned that an online account on which I relied in this post was itself in error. The next post here at the blog includes the necessary correction and apology for my own errors.

[A late addition:] Never Assume (A Disclaimer)

In this post as in every other post here at the blog, the views expressed are my own. I am not echoing, dictating, or trial-ballooning my wife's (MFCC's) views. If you want to know what she thinks, please consult her blog and her campaign Web site, and if those don't answer your question, ask her. On occasion, she will agree or disagree in a comment here at the blog; such comments are also good indicators of her views.

While we're at it, there's something else that might be worth remembering in general here at the blog, though it doesn't really apply to this particular post one way or the other: I don't carry water for a political party, either. Sometimes I don't express myself as clearly as I would like, but except for errors of that sort, the rule here is: if I don't think it, I don't write it.

So if you find that my views sometimes coincide with one party line and contradict the other, I'd be grateful if you'd hesitate for a moment or two before dismissing my thoughts as being purely partisan. I do not take a position because my party takes it, and I don't criticize a position because it happens to be that of the other party. If you've been reading here very long, you know that I am perfectly willing and often inclined to criticize my own party, when I think they are wrong or inept. Parties play important, positive roles in our politics, but I don't find them useful as focal points for groupthink.

Bad Reporting

American Forkers, before you get alarmed by ABC-4's report that your city council is considering raising the fee for a single cemetery plot to $5500, read Caleb Warnock's Daily Herald article, which is more accurate than the television report. Then read MFCC's blog posts correcting Warnock's article and correcting ABC-4's report.

(Local candidates, you should probably do this, too. It's necessary to learn a few lessons about the news media, who are sometimes useful and always necessary, besides being rather frustrating at times. These lessons are a lot less fun to learn from your own experience, such as when you jump all over a news article which makes your opponents look stupid or brazen or whatever, only to find out later that the article was in error.)

Warnock correctly reports what ABC-4 misses, that the city council is expected to vote Tuesday on increasing the cemetery fee from $800 to $1000 per plot (not the $5500 ABC-4 reported). But he is wrong when he reports that the council wants to raid the principal of the perpetual care fund; the discussion was about using the interest from that fund for its intended purpose: maintaining the cemetery.

Warnock and the Herald owe the City a correction and an apology. ABC-4 owes the City a retraction and an even bigger apology. And both the correction and the retraction should be clear and prominent.

We are 24 days from a primary election in which three of the six elected officials involved -- two city councilors and the mayor -- are running for re-election. They and American Fork's voters deserve better reporting than this.

A Larger Issue

There's another issue here. You can see it sort of peeking around the corner in these lines from MFCC's post on Warnock's article:

We council members stated, repeatedly, that the City should begin applying the interest -- the interest -- toward maintenance, as was originally intended. Armed with copies of the ordinance which we held in our hands, we insisted that the ordinance allowed spending the interest -- the interest -- for this very purpose.

Sadly, staff misunderstood our repeated pleas, and could not be dissuaded from their frustratingly irrelevant position that the principal -- the principal -- could not be expended except in case of dire emergency.

By itself it's almost enough to make you wonder: is there a serious problem with the staff?

Don't be surprised to hear some mayoral candidate ask a slightly more pointed version of this question sometime in the next ten weeks or so: "Mayor Thompson, why are there still major problems with senior staff? It's been almost four years now."

I myself have occasionally mentioned these problems. For example, I did so here and here and here and here at the blog.

On one hand, some glaring administrative problems have been corrected in the last four years. On the other hand, in my dubiously humble opinion, this is still one of Mayor Thompson's two principal vulnerabilities in this year's election. It also had a lot to do with the decision of at least one of his challengers to run against him.

The mayor's other vulnerability may be larger in voters' minds, whether it deserves to loom larger or not. In fact, fixing the staff problems might have prevented this other problem, which has to do with taxes. Not only did Mayor Thompson lead a narrow majority's charge toward a 17 percent tax increase last year. (They called it less than 10 percent, which sounds better and is somewhat defensible, but doesn't quite fit Truth-in-Taxation's idea of the starting point for calculating a tax increase.) Not only did his administration botch the public communications aspect of the increase. Not only did he thereafter lead the charge to propose five bond issues for last November's ballot, against the advice of experts and of a minority of the city council. He actually compounded the offense in both cases by seeming -- to quite a few city residents who attended hearings and meetings then -- flippant (about the increases) and dismissive (of numerous voices urging restraint).

It could be an interesting mayoral campaign, if one or both challengers understand these issues and the mayor's vulnerabilities, and if they don't advertise too many other vulnerabilities of their own.

Heidi Rodeback comments (8/24/09):

I say, that's a little strong. It's time for the annual disclaimer, that views expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect views of YFCC.

David Rodeback comments (8/24/09):

Done. See above. I have also deleted one passage which was not completely germane to my point and seemed prone to misinterpretation, and revised two other sentences for the sake of clarity.

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