As is common knowledge, both Lamar and Daniel also work for the City of Alexandria, in addition to writing for this blog and working on their other projects. Well, I don’t. Although I work hard as an individual to support development within our community, I have no direct ties the city, nor do I have any predisposed loyalties. I do, however, feel a responsibility to point out what I feel is a destructive abuse of the journalistic process by The Town Talk that may have, in the past, cost our community development opportunities, often politicizes governmental processes, and continues to detract from the work being done by developers and government officials alike.

For being an organization that generally refuses to use any sort of investigative journalism when covering a story that might run the slightest risk of upsetting their advertisers or certain local religious groups, The Town Talk has suddenly whole-heartedly adopted the public records request. This has mostly been in issues involving the Alexandria Mayor and City Council. Of course, rarely has anything come of these requests. Usually the request involves some simple procedural aspect of government. And, of course, as in their recent set of articles culminating with todays story here, The Town Talk generally uses its pages to run several articles talking about how there should be a records request, how they plan to file a records request, how they have filed a records request, an additional story on what a records request is, a story on how the target of their ‘investigation’ has thus far refused their request, and finally an article about some government official giving in to their triumphant records request — usually with no story to actually be reported.

This works great for The Town Talk — they get 4 to 5 days of fill-articles out of usually nothing. But that’s generally where it stops working for Cenla. I personally find it rather convenient that so many of The Town Talk‘s exploits in the arena seem to center around Mayor Jacques Roy, whom, if you will remember, was basically the progenitor of local governmental transparency. He actually ran his campaign based on this, on getting people involved, on developing the city with the city in mind, of moving us away from a long tradition of good ole boy politics and backroom deals.

The fact is, The Town Talk has yet to report much of value as the result of these great newspaper epics. What they have done, however, is run the risk of derailing important development projects. One of the worst things that can happen with any project, whether it be a personal effort, a government plan, or the work of private business is for word to get out too soon — for people to see an unfinished plan or to be told of something that is undecided or hasn’t gotten all of the kinks worked out yet.

Letting the cat out of the bag can sometimes lead to interested parties pulling out, or concerned citizens making a stink because they’ve been given false or incomplete information. And for businesses this can lead to attacks from competitors, unfair speculation from those wishing to make an extra buck, and any number of other scenarios.

Is that to say the local newspaper should not report on the goings on of government? Hardly — we want them involved. But when that reporting is detrimental to the development of a struggling economy it goes quickly from journalistic integrity to journalistic speculation — to making an advertising buck while costing out area jobs and opportunity — usually opportunities that don’t come this way very often or very easily.

The recent rant about Mayor Roy’s SPARC presentation calling for joint development and planning efforts between Alexandria and Pineville is one such situation where The Town Talk is creating a problem where there is none. In fact, this is one area in which any efforts to merge the planning of the two cities is a good thing. Any move, no matter how small or trivial to move us toward some semblance of metropolitan government can only help the entire region. We are the only metro area in the state that does not benefit from the existence of a common shared planning and marketing division, of the shared resources and cost-cutting of unified services. Not to mention that, the presentation — even in its working ‘idea’ form was clearly and openly shared with the public at a meeting which the Town Talk attended and reported on.

They were allowed to see a preliminary plan, so were the other attendees. They were able to discuss it and be let in on this exciting development opportunity. However instead of reporting on the possibilities such cooperative efforts hold for Cenla, or by reporting on the successes of other metro area in the state, The Town Talk chose to make this non-issue their issue of the week.

Now, before it’s even off the rough-draft phase, this promising idea of combining the skills, efforts, and attributes of our various municipalities to support a planned regional development effort is in jeopardy. There are already black marks in the public eye against a plan that hasn’t even been fully born yet, and suspicion is being cast on city leaders on both sides of the river with no basis whatsoever.

Thanks Town Talk.

18 thoughts

  1. Drew I appreciate what you are saying, about “letting the cat out of the bag”. But therein lies the problems. There should be no bag in which one keeps the public cat. You seem to support an elitest form of government, in which a few at the top decides what is best for us little insignificant people.

    Put simply, the City Government is our corporation, in which we are the stockholders. We, as stockholders, have the right to see the corporate books. If those that are in negotiations with the City know what is going on, certainly so do we. So let that public cat out of the bag!

  2. Greg I definitely understand where you’re coming from, and in an ideal world that would be a great situation. But unfortunately we live in a world of greed where there is always someone out there trying to take advantage of a situation. That means that from a planning and development standpoint everything can’t be fully open all the time.

    Let me try this scenario — suppose there is a company willing to build a large development — say an outlet mall or something. They require a piece of land with certain size, acreage, utilities, and road access. Word gets out too soon that something like this is in the works and what happens? People swoop in a buy up the perspective land and try to make a quick buck selling it at a premium because they now know they have the upper hand. Not willing to suddenly pay 10 times the going rate, the outlet mall developer decides to build his new property in Lafayette.

    oops

  3. Unless Alexandria’s people and public servants are way different from elsewhere, that “cat” is gonna get out of the bag anyhow. Open meetings laws and the Public Records Act are designed such that we all get a look at the “cat” at the same time. Otherwise, a chosen few can get the jump on the rest of us. And politicos can steer pieces of the project to their chosen ones . . . .

    Developers protect themselves by optioning land before they get very far with governmental authorities. Developers have ways to protect themselves from barnacles.

    Government by the people and for the people is a messy thing.

  4. Government for the people by the people is messy. And I love it.

    However my point it that sometimes the Town Talk itself has its own political motivations (as was so obviously shown during the recent Sheriff’s race). Developers and politicians have their own goals as well.

    A responsible local media is absolutely necessary to ensure a check on governmental abuses. However when that media uses its ability to reach an audience and its pull in the community simply to rile up its readership in hopes of selling more papers it’s only one step off of yellow journalism.

    My point it simply that when the Town Talk makes an issue out of a non-issue for the sake of filling its pages and giving the impression of investigative journalism at the detriment of development they are irresponsibly screwing our community to their financial gain.

    If you notice during this entire SPARC deal there has never been one thing about it that has been shown to be the slightest bit sketchy, yet the Town Talk immediately made it seem that Mayor Roy and others were trying to hide something.

  5. Drew –

    Let’s face it there was no “cat to be let out” in this instance. Your attempt to link public information regarding SPARC to a prospective project under the guise of economic development is not founded.

    The Mayor, gave a preliminary presentation on this proposal in a public forum. He, acting as a public servant, presented information. The Town Talk has every right to request information regarding that proposal. Additionally, the Town Talk was invited at first to a meeting between to public officials which was then cancelled. They then find “meetings or discussions” regarding SPARC took place out of the public’s view and without their presence. So they called the Mayor on it. For once, I have to applaud their efforts to actually get off their duff and do some reporting.

    In regards to protecting projects and making certain we don’t lose them because information appears in the paper too early, I would suggest that perhaps public officials and employees should not discuss these projects in open forums nor outside their offices.

    Those of us who work to bring new jobs to our community, who work to help our local businesses expand aren’t out discussing and beating our chest about what we’re doing or what we’ve accomplished. We’re simply getting the job done and not going to public officials and public forums for discussion until absolutely necessary. This is the only way to maintain confidentiality.

    Perhaps the biggest problem right now is there is a severe lack of trust in our community. Trust in the current administration. Trust in the Council. Trust in the Boards that have been legislatively created. We also seem to have lost the ability to work collectively for a common goal. Each group seems to want to own and control projects. Until we can get back to the spirit of cooperation and trust which allowed our community to win big projects we’re going to continue to get past over.

    I encourage the Town Talk to continue to seek information on the public’s behalf. No public official has the right to hide behind his home computer or work in progress type statements when he has willingly presented information in a public forum.

  6. Ok, good point. The irresponsible journalism issue can be real. I can see how a good idea could suffer death by innuendo–“what are they trying to hide?”

    To me, this is a separate issue from the openness issue. Transparency, in and of itself, need not and ought not kill a deal.

    Sounds like Mayor Roy could use a media-savvy press secretary. Best way to deal with the media is to feign cooperation without giving them much to work with. But I recognize the inconsistency in my statements. : )

  7. “We have in the last two years lost projects, or perspective businesses, or even perspective new residents because the Town Talk has chosen to report on projects that were in the works before the necessary deals were done. Is that to say the local newspaper should not report on the goings on of government?”

    can you givew an example?

  8. Well, we did lose out on playing host to Jessica Simpson for a movie shoot whenever it was reported in the paper.

    Hehe.

    incidentally, I am working on a longer response. I’m not sure if I’m going to publish it or not, but boy, has this story been completely bungled!

    And Bird, what on earth are you talking about? By your standard, it’s inappropriate to even have a discussion on an issue without The Town Talk present? I’m confused about the meetings/discussions that you reference.

  9. I am not saying it’s inappropriate to have a discussion without the Town Talk, but don’t schedule a meeting between public officials, invite the reporter, cancel the meeting, then say you had the meeting the anyway and not expect the Town Talk to call you on it.

    As for losing projects, are you saying we’ve lost the project that was alluded to at a recent Rotary meeting? What projects exactly ahve we lost because something appeared in the newspaper? The only time the Town Talk knows what projects the City is pursuing is when someone at the City stands up in front of a public audience and says we’re chasing this or we’re working on landing this.

    Who cares if the actual story about the Mayor hiding a presentation from the Town Talk was bundled. My point is that if the City is serious about working on economic development projects they have to learn a few rules:

    1) They don’t live on an island – it takes a full team of people to pull a project together – that means working with others and playing nice.

    2) They cannot go out in the public eye, whether that’s Rotary or a neighborhood group meeting and talk about the project. That information stays in the office. You don’t even talk about it at home at night.

    3) Only when the company says its ok do you discuss the project in a public forum. And only after you have briefed all persons involved in the project – that would include the Council who usually has to approve something.

    Drew has tried to link a power point presentation pissing match to Alexandria losing the next Union Tank Car and that, I am sorry is hogwash. Calling the Mayor out on SPARC was the right thing to do. Granted, they may have gone overboard to fill three days worth the news, but what else do they have to report on down there?

  10. why are you replying, lamar? this was someone else’s post. not only that, but i get the impression that drew is getting the info on these “lost projectd” from you.

  11. DLC,

    Nope. Drew’s not getting information from me. We hadn’t even discussed this project before he posted about it.

    It’s important to correct the record, which will be done in a subsequent post and letter to the editor.

  12. just sayin. it looks a little strange for drew to post and you respond. to me it looks a little odd and not completely above board.

  13. C’mon man,

    It’s Lamar’s board. I mean hell, it’s got his name in it. But no, Lamar didn’t prime me for the story, nor did I consult him before writing it.

    I felt this was a topic that needed discussion, and I felt that as the guy without a connection to the city government that it was best that it come from me.

    That said however, Lamar is more than right to be commenting on this story. Just as everyone else is right in voicing their concerns.

    Not everything is a conspiracy (although I do supposedly have a multiple personality alter-ego on the town talk forums).

    It’s a matter of discussion, no ulterior motives…let’s discuss

  14. Oh yeah, and where have all you guys been?!?

    We’ve been talking about some good issues on here — everything from legislation to biofuels, to sugarcane, to Tibet.

    Get to commenting!!! 🙂

  15. Don’t know where you’ve been Drew – I do post comments occssionally. I however have been busy trying to bring jobs to our community in spite of things like the Mayor and Council being in Court, in spite of negative press and in spite of the appearance of non-cooperation.

    Instead of writing about “Saving Tibet” maybe you all should be writing about “Saving Alexandria.”

  16. I don’t know why you can’t read English Lamar. Drew posted an I’ll quite: “Oh yeah, and where have all you guys been?!?

    We’ve been talking about some good issues on here — everything from legislation to biofuels, to sugarcane, to Tibet.

    Get to commenting!!! ”

    I responded to this post. I have been commenting. I don’t post daily because I spend the bulk of my time actually trying to make our community a better place in spite of all of the negative things going on.

    You all spent days writing about saving Tibet. I suggested you put some energy and thought into Saving Alexandria.

    Perhaps, now that you are a public servant, you have a tainted view. You fail to realize what is actually going on in our city. If you and some of your co-workers would get out in the public and speak with people from all works of life you might find people are getting frustrated again.

    They see money being spent to bring a Wal-Mart to a well-off section part of our community, yet the money that was promised for parks and streets in the depressed area of the City seems non-existent. We’re quickly becoming a City divided.

    Now do you know what I’m talking about?

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