What to do when the only newspaper in town is unethical?
I've been asked to post my testimony from the 10/17 City Council meeting regarding the mayor's treatment of Council member Eileen Rogers and the failure of the Mountain Mail to cover the topic. Here are my comments:
Good evening Mr. Mayor and Council members,
My name is Anne Marie Holen and I am a downtown Salida resident, [address]. I am speaking here tonight to express a concern about the state of our democracy here in Salida.
With elections coming up, I have been trying to be a good citizen and attend local candidate forums and I also decided to attend an entire City Council meeting and an entire Planning Commission meeting. So I was here on October 3, sitting in the back with my knitting. The meeting was pretty tame – until the end, when it was Council member Rogers’ turn to speak and she began to speak, which led to an angry outburst from the mayor and then finally he used the gavel to prevent her from continuing.
I was stunned. I don’t know Eileen Rogers, but she is one of my elected representatives from Ward 2 and I was very interested in what she had to say.
I thought surely there would be a news story in the Mountain Mail about the incident and the broader topic raised by Council member Rogers. There has been no news coverage.
The Mountain Mail published an opinion piece by Council member Rogers, but an opinion piece is not a news story, and so the public is left wondering: Did the mayor did really spend taxpayer money to use the city attorney to try to dig up damaging information on two Council members whom he perceives as political enemies?
If those allegations are true, it’s deserving of a news story. If they are not true, that’s deserving of a news story. If the truth is more complicated and nuanced, that still deserves a news story.
But the mayor’s behavior and the lack of follow-up by the Mountain Mail leave us in the dark.
A free and independent and ethical news media is one of the pillars of our democracy, part of the checks and balances that help prevent abuse of power. Why the silence? Why was Eileen Rogers silenced and why has the Mountain Mail been silent?
Yesterday I called former Mountain Mail reporter Sam Liebl – who now lives in Texas – and asked for his thoughts. He was very candid. He also wanted to be clear that he is not on anyone’s “side.” But from what he learned as a reporter – which is more than what the average citizen in Salida knows – there is reason to believe that Council member Rogers’ allegations are founded on fact and that the Mountain Mail deliberately suppressed the story. This is not a partisan issue. What appears to have happened is fundamentally unethical and a disservice to the community. We the people deserve better.
Thank you for allowing me the time to speak on this issue.