GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

February 23, 2013

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? Stepping up to take community leadership role

Why Did My Newspaper Do That?
Ray Lamont

---- — When word recently surfaced that three members of the Gloucester Waterways Board had stepped down over the last two weeks, some of those members talked openly about the board’s lack of progress on a number of issues – and both they and board chairman Toby Gross noted some of the factors contributing to the problem.

For her part, Mayor Carolyn Kirk — emphasizing that she didn’t see the loss of three members in two weeks from a nine-member board as a “mass exodus” — vowed to find three replacements. But given the board’s absolute inertia regarding the city’s dire need for more dockage space, and the Waterways panel’s seeming incapability of addressing the issue, I and a few others here at the Times began thinking of a bigger issue:

If the Waterways Board is seen by many — as it is — as a hindrance to waterfront development, not a panel that helps city tourism and moves these initiatives forward, why do we even have it? Even better, do we need it?

Those thoughts set in motion what turned out to be Thursday’s editorial, which indeed called for streamlining the city’s waterfront and harbor leadership by scrapping the Waterways Board.

Beyond that, it called for perhaps shifting some of the board’s duties to an expanded city harbor planning department under Harbor Planning Director Sarah Garcia, and shifting the position of longtime harbormaster James Caulkett so that he would directly report and be accountable to perhaps the mayor or city council, not an independent board that creates a little fiefdom of harbor management.

When I spoke with a few residents and even a couple of city officials before crafting the editorial, all acknowledged that the board is so bogged down that it borders on being useless. Yet no one seemed quite comfortable in going on the record and calling for the board’s dissolution. So we decided to do precisely that — on our own in Thursday’s editorial.

Now, generally, a community newspaper will cover stories on ideas advanced by others. It may be a case, as we’ve seen lately, of a city resident seeking and getting a public hearing from the School Committee on school security guards. More likely, it’s a proposal being advanced by the mayor, one or more city councilors or potential developers, like the representatives of the Beauport Gloucester LLC group that’s advancing plans for a 101-room hotel on the city’s outer harbor in the Fort.

In this case — as in past instances, such as the idea of the city acquiring or leasing all or part of the charter school for city school use — the proposal wasn’t announced or advanced at a public meeting, and there is no such proposal filed. It is, in fact, an idea generated, as far as I know, right in our own newsroom.

Is that overstepping a newspaper’s or journalists’s bounds? Why, you might ask, would your community’s newspaper do that?

Simple. As I’ve noted several times, we here at the Times don’t just see ourselves as a newspaper that covers our community. We’re a part of that community as well. And every now and then, I believe the Times has a duty to step up and take a community leadership role.

That can include coordinating and hosting election candidates, as we have in the past and as we will again this year. But it can also include making proposals and advancing ideas that, at the very least, might be worthy of discussion.

That was the idea behind our Waterways Board proposal this week. As always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Is there an issue or subject you’d like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3438, or via email at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.