Public input unwelcome in Arroyo Grande
August 29, 2014
COMMENTARY by DANIEL BLACKBURN
Up until today, I’d never met a newspaper that didn’t love a good, old fashioned investigation by some official agency.
Now that the Arroyo Grande City Council plans to meet publicly to discuss once more a particularly prickly personnel problem, an independent investigation (the best kind) looms.
Not appreciating this, however, is the county’s daily. But maybe that shouldn’t be surprising given the reality that this incongruous McClatchy publication doesn’t much like to do its own investigations.
Editors of The Tribune chose today to editorially chastise residents of Arroyo Grande for showing up at their city council’s meeting earlier this week to vocally express their thoughts. The editorial whines, “Why is A.G. wasting time on inquiry?”
Same editors must have chugged some of the “tea” that has become central to a story being told by City Manager Steve Adams.
Adams and a subordinate department director, Teresa McClish, were found in a darkened City Hall near midnight July 3 by police and emergency workers who were responding to a 911 call from McClish’s husband. Adams and McClish were reported to be “disheveled,” a situation responding police officers later described as “uncomfortable.”
CalCoastNews broke the story Aug. 19, after trying unsuccessfully for two days to contact city officials involved, who, like the Godfather’s Corleone family, had apparently “gone to the mattresses.”
First came Mayor Tony Ferrara, telling a local civic group that all was well, he’d looked into the situation, CalCoastNews is unbelievable, and Adams and McClish are the salt of the earth.
Then Adams and McClish and the city’s legal team made themselves available to… The Tribune.
The pair claimed they had been drinking wine at nearby bars, and were sipping tea and waiting to sober up before driving home.
The spoon-fed Tribune printed what can only be called the pair’s questionable version without question.
Ferrara would later concede that Adams had been “seriously reprimanded” by the council. But for what?
At Tuesday’s council meeting, a standing-room crowd jammed into city hall, with more people overflowing into an adjacent conference room. Nearby restaurants, also packed, were airing the meeting on the local government access television channel. Dave Congalton, on his Hometown Radio talk show on KVEC-920, broadcast the public hearing portion of the meeting.
When is the last time you heard of that happening?
The reason for this occurring, quite simply, is public interest. People want to know why Adams and McClish put themselves — and the city — in this terribly awkward position, regardless of what transpired behind closed doors that night.
I believe that a primary function of journalism is to give voice to those stifled by powerful interests. The local daily simply gives the politically potent a bigger club with which to pound the citizenry.
From The Tribune’s editorial: “So, again, why is the City Council seriously thinking about funding another investigation? Is it to satisfy the contingent hollering that the city is transpiring to cover up inappropriate conduct on the part of two top employees?”
In a word, yes: That’s exactly why. It’s a matter of responding to the people.
What is happening here boils down to politics 101, because any independent investigation will exacerbate and complicate this situation, keep it in the public eye longer, and generally make things worse. Much better if said independent investigation never occurs.
When the council eventually meets within the next two weeks to vote on such an independent investigation, Ferrara will need two council allies to kill it. Kristen Barneich has made clear in her public comments that she likely can be counted on to be one.
The Trib’s editorial is Ferrara’s truncheon to pummel just one more council member into submission.
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