Sneak Preview Column Does Disservice To Ashland

This letter was written to Curtis Hayden, Editor, Sneak Preview

Dear Mr. Hayden,

I have read your columns in the Sneak Preview for seven years now.  Most of them have been harmless attempts to convey a folksy knowledge of Ashland life and politics.  Your most recent piece on Ashland city government, however, did real damage to the city.

The article was essentially a regurgitation of the views of a so-called unnamed former city employee.  This “Deep Throat”, as you dub him (and I would bet it is a male from the language he uses) makes all manner of unsubstantiated claims and speculation and you do little to fact check him.  For example, he claims that Mayor Julie Akins “violated all kinds of laws and ordinances” with her Facebook post regarding Devon Brown.  This is a very serious accusation to make against a sitting mayor, yet you simply repeat it without question.  Is your source an authority on Oregon municipal law?  Did he get his information from city attorney Dave Lohman?  Since you fail to explore these questions, we can only wonder.

Speaking of Dave Lohman, you take your source’s word about the events leading to Akins’ email to Lohman without asking if there could have been other things Lohman did or said aside from merely recommending procedures for council meetings.  Julie Akins is a reasonable person.  What could have prompted her to react the way she did?  Then you write (of Lohman), “Feeling he had no other choice…he resigned his position…”  You cite this as fact without even attributing it to your source or any other source.  In other circumstances, this would just be called sloppy journalism but in this case your writing serves to unnecessarily inflame a crisis in our local government.

Next we have Tina Gray’s version of the withdrawal of consulting firm Peckham and McKenney from the city manager search.  What reasons did the firm actually give?  Did their withdrawal have anything to do with reasons not listed by Gray, such as the fact that they no longer do business in Oregon?   You don’t ask.  (In fact, in June 29’th city council meeting Akins says she got an email from a Peckham and McKenney representative stating that the reason they withdrew was that this kind of contract didn’t fit into their “business plan”.)

Your source may think that working for the city qualifies a person to be city manager.  I’m sure Adam Hanks is a fine person, but prior to his interim position as city administrator I believe he had no experience as a city manager.  It is perfectly appropriate (and common) for a city to look outside its ranks to fill a position, especially one as important as city manager at a time when the community has asked for a new direction by approving the measure to create this new position despite opposition by former mayor John Stromberg.  This point is left unmade as you once again take your source’s opinion and let him rant about Julie Akins and the “crazies” in Ashland (read, concerned citizens). (To your credit, you do quote Julie Akins on this topic, but to the reader it comes across as a token quote interjected into one long harangue against her.)

Not content to rest there, you can’t resist mentioning the email that recruiter Wendi Brown supposedly sent Tina Gray.  Why give any space at all to an email you failed to locate?  And then you conclude your column by saying it was “ironic” that Finance Director Melanie Purcell resigned, and letting Deep Throat opine that the city would be in a “world of hurt” if that happened.  And why is that?  Because an employee who has only been with the city a short time quits?  Again, one more unanswered question.

Please pass this message on to “Deep Throat”:  “Come out of the shadows and make your accusations in the light of day where they can be questioned, discussed or disputed, and where your background and character can be taken into account as the public weighs your words.  If you won’t do this, please stop the rancor, which hurts our community.”

There have been many mean-spirited words said and written lately in regards to Ashland city government.  If we are to move forward as a city, we need less of that.  Your column was filled with gossip, and gossip hurts people.  To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen’s admonition of Dan Qualye in their vice presidential debate, “Mr. Hayden, I have read pieces of quality investigative journalism, and you’re no Bob Woodward.”  Please keep that in mind next time you are tempted to write another similar column.

David Savage