Newspaper stuck in the middle
It's not often that a newspaper finds itself in the position of mediator but during the most recent round robin of political volleys between warring factions within the community and our City Council, the Tidings has been caught in the middle, a veritable journalistic marriage counselor trying its utmost to listen to and validate both parties, helping each feel heard.
We can say without question when these tit-for-tat issues occur every party submitting an op-ed for publication faults us for being overly critical of their submission and not critical enough of everyone else's.
Fair enough. Human nature says "My view is logical and correct and everyone else is in the wrong." But asking you to separate fact from opinion in your op-ed and deciding whether you've proven your facts with sufficient documentation is a delicate dance done by human beings, which is where mistakes occur.
As normally happens, the writers are emotionally invested in their opinion and cannot separate themselves from the difference between fact and opinion very well, so when they submit their "proof," it often is as much opinion as truth — making our job very challenging.
In the most recent volley of accusations, former city councilor Brenda Perry took to task two current members of the City Council that she (along with some other citizens we've heard from) faults for not operating in the best interest of the city.
She cited numerous behaviors and actions that she said she was aware of from her time serving with Councilors Rich Sakelik and Teri Cummings, as well as actions demonstrated by city records in recent weeks.
We asked her to change some of her reported "facts" because she could not substantiate them, and some we tweaked to be what we felt was more accurate and fair.
But much of it we left because we felt a substantial amount of her submission was opinion and could not be verified.
The subjects of her op-ed took exception to her submission, as she — and we — knew they would. They felt that it was disingenuous to let the submission keep the original title of "Fact check" because there was so much opinion involved, and they have a valid point.
In hindsight, we should have caught that and required a change. When Perry states "Councilors Sakelik and Cummings seem to frequently use the City Attorney's time whenever they want to" that is her opinion based on observation because "whenever they want" cannot be proved (we requested records of the City Attorney's billing records, which document the topics discussed but not with whom).
But when she accuses the councilors of wanting to reduce the role of mayor and shift some of those responsibilities to the council as a group, that's fact.
Both councilors have spoken about and promoted new rules that would alter the mayor's control over the meeting agendas and appointment of citizen advisory committee members. So we let that one stand.
Yet we were unaware that her statement that Sakelik and Cummings were risking the City's $20 million GO bond by delaying the start of some projects was inaccurate.
Unknown to us, city staff had informed the council that the previous impression of a negative outcome if funds weren't spent by a certain date was erroneous.
That particular volley was one that slipped through our fingers and should have been caught.
It's indisputable that the council has taken a very long time to approve its rules governing its own practices and policies but it is opinion that they have not (or have) been following them. And Perry thinks they have not, while Cummings and Sakelik insist they have.
The irony of this war is the fact that when Perry campaigned for City Council, it was she who was tilting at windmills, taking the then-council to task for its behaviors and earning support from Cummings and her army.
Now the roles are reversed and what was up is now down, and white is black.
So here is the real fact check of Perry's op-ed, as best as we can ascertain:
— Sakelik wanted to micromanage the training of Citizen Advisory Group members — Open to interpretation. He did request changes to the city manager's plan for the trainings, allowing himself and Cummings to attend (the other councilors could have but did not).
— The council frequently changes , meeting agendas on short notice, which delays progress in Council business — Impossible to quantify. All the councilors (save the new ones), including the mayor, do this often enough that it was impossible to find all the instances to measure when it happened the most. And whether this impacts future council business is hard to measure.
— Cummings is "refusing to follow the rules." — True. West Linn Council rules state unequivocally that notes are public records and should be treated as such. And Cummings is on record saying she doesn't think her notes are public record and she should not have to make them available.
— Council rules are being broken. — Open to interpretation. Perry alludes to the "civil discourse" language in this accusation. Cummings and Sakelik insist they do not demonstrate behavior in violation of these rules but the Tidings has seen and heard numerous instances of what we would classify as unprofessional and boorish behavior in public meetings and workshops.
— Council goals are taking too long to adopt. — Impossible to quantify. Cummings insists the mayor's pontification contributes to the delay as well, yet the last red-lined version of the rules the Tidings saw was packed with revisions mostly suggested by Cummings.
Here's the rub: both "sides" of this war want to use the Tidings as a public sounding board in order to get their version of the truth out there, and they want to diminish the access of the other side to the same privileges. And we'd rather spend our time producing informative, accurate and interesting news stories for the community instead of mediating this war of words.
The mediator hired to help the City Council work better together in compiling its list of goals for the year, Sam Impertati — a much better mediator than the Tidings — had the most insightful things to say on the subject when he addressed the council earlier this year:
"It's always easy to see the other person's contribution to the problem, harder to see our own contribution...All of us regularly spin in the intersection of logic and emotion." What he observed was "people listening for disagreement, not listening for agreement. You as a group are locked in a power struggle that is not sustainable."
Letting go of the past is the only way to move forward, he told them. He suggested they realize they can "Build a relationship and find a solution or you can build a case and fix blame.,, I can't fix this. You're adults, you've been elected to represent the people of this city... Pick: success or right. You can't have both."
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