Many times, stories tied directly to Gloucester's City Council, Cape Ann towns' selectmen, and elections for any or all of those government bodies can seem fairly similar.
In most cases, stories directly out of board or committee meetings, or stories about election candidates will simply report government decisions large and small, and members or candidates' positions regarding some key issues facing their communities.
Yet this past week, we had a Manchester election story that included news that most would agree had nothing to do with a candidate's position. And we reported on a Rockport story that focused squarely on selectmen, yet had nothing to do with any specific vote or talks about a town project or other issue.
The first story was Wednesday's Manchester election piece, noting that one of the two candidates for the only selectman's seat open for election was found guilty two weeks ago of drunken driving charge dating from Nov. 25, 2010.
The other, of course, is the flap over the remarks of Rockport Selectman Wendell "Sandy" Jacques, who, by several counts — including his own — suggested to Selectmen Chairwoman Sarah Wilkinson, a 35-year-old mother of two, that she should "go back to the kitchen," and then "apologized" only by saying only that he was sorry that she and others were offended.
Now, do either of these elements carry a direct bearing on boards' decision-making? Not really.
So why, you might ask, did we include and, or cover these incidents? Why, in other words, did your community's newspaper do that?
Because in each case, the information included was indeed that which we thought residents of those communities should and certainly have a right to know.
In the Manchester scenario, the fact that Karen Smith-Crawley, the former chairwoman of the Harbor Advisory Committee who is challenging Selectmen Chairman Thomas Kehoe, was sentenced April 5 to 18 months probation, fined $600 and ordered to surrender her license for 90 days after being convicted of driving while drunk along Route 128 in November 2010 is a matter of public record — and a recent addition to it that we had not reported.
We had frankly received a number of calls about the charge, so staff writer Stephanie Bergman verified the information and it was true. At that point, if we don't report it, then — in my book — we're wrongfully withholding public information from you, our readers. We're frankly not wiling to do that.
I can also tell you that, after the story ran, I also received calls asking why we included it. Doesn't her work on the town's Harbor Advisory Committee, one caller suggested, outweigh this one-time charge and conviction?
In many voters' minds, it might. But that's up to the voters, and again, doesn't suggest we should ignore or withhold the other information.
In Rockport, the Jacques story was different on several points. First, he made what most would consider offensive remarks to Wilkinson while a selectmen's meeting was still officially in session. Secondly, Wilkinson's formal complaint filed with her fellow selectmen was openly debated in public session Tuesday night.
Those factors alone certainly make his comments news — and while some clearly see his remarks as more offensive and degrading than others, the level to which his personal views may affect his ability to represent residents and the town should be up to the voters — and voters need this information to make that choice.
Yes, covering our elected officials and candidates usually focuses on their views and stands on community issues. But we also think that, when issues such as these arise, it's our duty to let you know about them. That way, you — not we — decide their significance.
As always, let me know what you think.
Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you'd like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000 x3438, or email@example.com.