One of the most exhausting and frustrating parts of this job is keeping up with, and countering, the steady stream of misinformation that makes its way into the public arena.
We don’t even bother to keep up with the inaccuracies spun on anonymous blogs, but we do try to address the issues that arise in credible places like letters to the editor, news stories and editorials.
Yesterday for example, a letter to the editor ran in this newspaper eviscerating the city for putting non-profits “under attack by their own city government” for excluding them from the purple bag program. The author of the letter gave us the courtesy of sending it to us as well a week or so ago. Earlier this week, I finally had the chance to sit down with the DPW Director to review its contents.
We pulled the history of the ‘pay- as- you- throw’ program that began in the city in 1990. We reviewed the minutes of the City Council meeting from when the ordinance was changed a few years ago, and I inspected the process that we use to enforce the ordinance.
The ‘pay-as-you-throw’ program, which began as a sticker program and then switched to purple bags, has never included nonprofits. From its inception 22 years ago, it has always been strictly a household waste and recycling program.
We came to the conclusion that the author of the letter was completely wrong in his assertions. But, too late. The letter appeared in Friday’s Times.
Another example that occurred recently was an editorial in this newspaper that claimed that Sarah Garcia, the Harbor Planning Director, was the city staff member who gave the advice that a neighborhood meeting about the Beauport Hotel was not appropriate. Sarah Garcia had nothing to do with the decision. It was strictly advice given by the City Solicitor that standard practice is for a ward councilor to host a neighborhood meeting before the permit application is sitting before that councilor for decision.
This might seem like a small issue, however, the portrayal was of a city administration trying to silence public input, which is totally contrary to the track record of this administration. It is especially important to protect the public trust about this because we are set to embark on a year-long community dialogue, led by Sarah Garcia, about the future of the designated port area (DPA) as part of the harbor planning process.
The editor did run a correction and for that I am grateful, and hopefully citizens will engage in harbor planning and know that their input matters.
And then there was the editorial that ran in another area newspaper a few weeks ago claiming that the savings promised from the closing of the Fuller School were never realized.
This one left me speechless. We downsized the elementary school program at the time by 20%, and laid off many teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, administrators, and other staff. The savings came not from closing the building, but by reducing district personnel costs by over $1 million.
Closing a school was by far the most difficult decision I have had to make as a city official. I couldn’t believe that history was being rewritten on this, and just let it go.
Rarely do I rant from the Mayor’s Desk, and I appreciate having the chance to counter some of the misinformation that makes its way into the public realm.
Carolyn Kirk is mayor of the city of Gloucester.