Regular readers of the Sunday Editorial are by now familiar with the format. We put on the dunce cap, admit to a factual error we committed in a recent post or print article, apologize, say we’ll try harder in the future, then go to defend ourselves from what we consider an unwarranted criticism of our reporting. We’ll do the same thing today.
The factual error occurred in “Big lights” article in the December Print Edition.
Merchants unite to light up the town
Over 20 West Fork businesses and churches have banded together to sponsor West Fork’s first Christmas lighting contest. The event called “Small Town Big Lights” is the brainchild of the city’s West Fest Committee, which was responsible for the wildly successful 2009 West Fest celebration in September. Participants can sign up at City Hall and must live within the City Limits to participate. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three winners. Judging will be December 21 beginning at 6:30.
Our error, we were informed by a reliable source, was that the idea for “big lights” originated with the Parks Department, not the Festival Committee. The tidbit of information came to us in a conversation about the Festival Committee. We assumed incorrectly. We were wrong – we apologize- we’ll try harder in the future. The other criticism went beyond factual error. The commenter objected to the tone and perceived maliciousness imbedded in our report on what didn’t happen at the Nov. 12 City Council Meeting. Was this something personal? Were we trying to make the council look bad? Here is the article as it appeared in the December print edition.(available at the Library, restaurants, BeeVee’s and by subscription)
Budget approved without discussion
At the Nov. 12 City Council meeting Budget Ordinance No. 410 was voted on and passed unanimously. There was no discussion on the million dollar budget. No councilmember asked a question. No one made a comment to indicate to the voters their budget priorities.
The 2010 Budget document was not included in the packet of documents sent to council members for their review prior to the meeting. The Budget was hand delivered to some council member’s hours before the meeting. Some members may not have seen the Budget before the meeting.
There was no mention of a $10,000 retirement payment to two long time employees who were paid lump sums because they worked for the city prior to the 1991 implementation of the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System. The controversy associated with eliminating a police officer position, which was not discussed directly in any of the public budget committee meetings was also not discussed by the council.
Admittedly, reporting on something that didn’t happen could be problematic. We first posted an editorial on line about that meeting on Nov. 17 and soon received an email from a reader who pointed to our vagueness on the issue. We pulled the post. Was it news or editorial? The editors discussed it and decided to treat the event as a news article – let the readers have their own opinion. Reporting on something that didn’t happen is not unusual. Sometimes things are conspicuous by their absence. Lack of any comment by even one of the elected officials regarding 2010 budget, the first budget in twelve years with deep cuts in services, seemed news worthy.
We can’t report on events out of the public view. The meeting had an “executive session” – closed to the public. Maybe the council members did discuss the lump sum retirement payment or eliminating a police position – but they didn’t do it in public. That’s the meat of the matter. They didn’t give the electorate a clue as to where they stood.
No one associated with the Zephyr has any personal “ax to grind” or is out to make anyone appear in a negative light. We call it like we see it. No doubt, feathers will be ruffled and boats will be shaken. Our job is to inform citizens. The town leaders’ job is to tell us where they’re leading us and why.
We take the first amendment seriously and see an independent press as essential to a free and democratic society. We will work to make Government, at all levels- national, state, county and city to be accessable, open and transparent. Even in a small town.