COLUMN: Tyler Clarke — Sept. 25, 2012

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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A sure sign of a job well done is a politician upset about an article they’re unable to point out any factual errors in.

 

Coun. Lee Atkinson is seen at the Monday, Sept. 10, city council meeting.

A sure sign of a job well done is a politician upset about an article they’re unable to point out any factual errors in.

Such is the case with my report on the Monday, Sept. 10, city council meeting that appeared in the Thursday, Sept 13, edition of the Daily Herald.

The crux of the article was Coun. Ted Zurakowski and Mayor Jim Scarrow calling out Coun. Lee Atkinson’s limited committee involvement – an accusation I was easily able to back up with some quick facts by checking the city’s official website listings of committee appointments.

As Atkinson points out on his online blog, The View from Ward Three, this was a “successful deployment of the red herring strategy to avoid an issue.”

How true he is! The issue actually at hand was Zurakowski’s motion to cancel a council meeting in October and its preceding executive committee meeting (a preparatory meeting of council held the Monday prior to city council meetings).

I wouldn’t say it “distracted the local paper,” as Atkinson points out in his blog, but it certainly grabbed my attention – particularly since the criticism was a valid one.

I thought that a city councillor yelling with a reddened face, “I take personal exception to the statement from my colleague from the floor,” was a lot more interesting focus for an article than the cancellation of meetings (a topic the article also covers all the way to how council voted).

Every single moment within city council meetings is fair game for reporters, so as soon as a politician is mad, it’s safe to say my tape recorder is on. I ran with the story, along with Atkinson’s own red herring about having in his time on city council “been on more committees than anyone in this room.”

Irrelevant, because the issue at hand was his current two committee appointments – a number dwarfed by everyone else on council.

If Atkinson feels that there’s no merit in sitting on a committee, why would Scarrow choose to put him on one? And, is he fighting for committee appointments as much as other councillors?

I’m surprised by his reaction to my article, which he expresses in great detail on his blog, which you can read online at councillorleeatkinson.blogspot.ca (note his addition of spin and lack of complaint about factual errors within my story).

Atkinson’s fumbling for justifications, which reminds me more of federal politics than municipal, is prevalent in his online blog.

In his criticism of my reporting on the Monday, Sept. 10 council meeting, Atkinson claims that it’s Scarrow and not councillors who choose which committees they sit on.

I phoned Scarrow to fact-check this claim, and he informed me that prior to council appointments he sends out emails as well as phones all councillors to see which committees they’re interested in sitting on.

“He neither responded nor returned my phone calls,” Scarrow said of Atkinson.

This lack of response is inadvertently explained in Atkinson’s blog:

“In my first term, I attended every committee meeting that I could, even those that I wasn't on, just to learn as much as I could about how the city worked,” his blog reads. 

“I no longer feel the need for this sort of immersion learning, and with the sheer number of committees that have been created, I don't think that it would be possible.”

If Atkinson feels that there’s no merit in sitting on a committee, why would Scarrow choose to put him on one? And, is he fighting for committee appointments as much as other councillors?

It isn’t my job to make politicians look good. It’s my job to report on politicians accurately.

Whether a politician looks bad or good is none of my concern, and to slant an article either way would be unfair to the electorate. 

Organizations: Daily Herald

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