Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Old posts on The Iconoclast remain interesting to read; thanks to REGULAR READER who dug this out of the archives and shared with us

"What are some hot topics in Fayetteville these days? Perhaps the future location of the high school. Or what’s going to become of the Walton Arts Center on Dickson Street. Those subjects are getting a lot of talk in the papers, over the air, and in countless conversations in coffee shops and on street corners. But you won’t find them being discussed in forums on the Government Channel these days.The city’s would-be propaganda minister, Susan Thomas, has decided otherwise. The public forums have been dismantled.
"Ms. Thomas’ actual title is public information officer. Right now she’s busy limiting public information. It seems she agrees with the latest word from the city attorney. Kit Williams has opined that the forums on the Government Channel might be an illegal use of the channel. So Susan Thomas now has a rationale for killing the forums. Or as she put it in pure doublespeak, she didn’t really cancel the forums. She just announced that planning them had been stopped. Another distinction without a difference. Censors have a million of ’em. ...
"What’s going on here? Why the city administrator’s sudden interest in programming on the Government Channel? And why, after all these years, are the public forums on the channel deemed illegal? These issue forums have long been done remarkably well. They’re balanced. Every side is heard. ...
"The bigger concern is that the administration’s latest intrusions open the door to further meddling in programming on the Government Channel. Some future administration might be inclined to tamper with the policies even more. The programming could become just what it was designed not to be: a tool to put the current administration in the most favorable light. ...
"We’d especially like to hear something unequivocal from Dan Coody, the mayor. He’s notoriously touchy about public information that doesn’t come out the way he thinks it should. What’s his role in this flap? Does he support undermining the independence of the Telecommunications Board? And Susan Thomas’ fiddling with programming? Good questions. Answers are needed. ...
"The public forums on the Government Channel have been a good source of information about various topics of community interest. To undermine that success—for whatever reason—is a mistake. The city council needs to get to the bottom of this. Soon. Before silence becomes standard operating procedure. Even in once free-speaking Fayetteville."


Fran Alexander examines the proposal in some detail then concludes, "Cutting to the chase, we all know Fayetteville will have to be represented on this board now that the authority exists. But treating Lucas and Jordan as spoilers is condescending. Wanting to know what’s in it for Fayetteville if traffic is diverted away from town is hardly faulty economic logic on the part of these aldermen. Jordan was even depicted in a political cartoon as a hayseed for not wanting to vote immediately. Well, gee, I’d sure rather have a hesitant questioner (hayseed he’s not, by the way) looking out for the town than slick bond daddies dancing for decades with our money, but maybe that’s just me. It may be painful, but critical thinking requires that we question authority — whether authority likes it or not."

Democracy is slower than dictatorship, but that is one of its advantages. If you are interested in participating and having your opinion considered, Aldermen Shirley Lucasand Lioneld Jordan are holding their regular monthly open-to-all Ward 4 meeting tonight at 7 p. m. in Room 111 of City Hall. The Regional Mobility Authority is the first thing on the agenda, and this will be the only public hearing before the vote Tuesday night and your only chance to ask questions or be heard. Not that the editors of the Northwest Arkansas Times think you care, have anything worthwhile to say, or even deserve that chance.

There will be no public forum on the Government Channel discussing this topic, but you can watch Mayor Coody's press conference about bottled water.

George Arnold has an interesting commentary in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on the nature and future of news and information in the public sphere. Unlike the editors at theNorthwest Arkansas Times, Arnold gets out and chats with folks outside the office on a regular basis and considers their views. He tries to engage in a conversation with citizens instead of the unilateral preaching and navel gazing of certain other editorial and opinion writers. That was evident from his editorial column today, wherein he reflected on the national trend of newspaper downsizing and the rise of alternative information sources.

As Arnold tells it, "I sat down for lunch last week with some residents of Northwest Arkansas who keep close eyes on what's going on around them. They're veterans of community activism, politically engaged. What was on their minds? Judging from many of their questions to me, they are just as concerned about the future of news and newspapers as those of us working in the business. My lunch partners have been watching as the Internet, and blogs especially, redefine the meaning of news, and how news is delivered." At the other local newspapers, these kind of people are labeled extremists and dismissed as having nothing worthwhile to say.

George Arnold has learned what too many of his colleagues in the local press fail to understand or acknowledge. "Gone are the days when those of us in journalism school were trained to be the gatekeepers of information for the rest of the public. As newspaper reporters and editors, we would be deciding what was important enough to pass along to our readers each day. The responsibility was a serious one, and not to be taken lightly."

"The gatekeeper function hardly exists any more," he admits with a sense of caution. "Everybody with a computer has become his own editor, seeking out the news of interest to him and perhaps, like some of those at lunch with me, running a blog or at least contributing their own thoughts to blogs. The gathering of news has gone viral. I willingly admitted to the group that I scanned several must-read blogs in the course of my working day, along with the obligatory review of several newspapers. Without all of them, I'd be at a disadvantage in trying to keep up with what's going on in the world around me".

The mainstream media depend on advertsing revenue from business and government, while bloggers depend more on passionate opinions than paychecks and have less concern about offending the powerful. Arnold also knows "that there is a lot of bogus information on blogs, too. Anybody who refers to blogs has to be his own gatekeeper these days, sorting out the worthwhile from the trash. No easy task, as any newspaper reporter could testify." He should have said as any newspaper readers could testify as well.

It is asking a lot of readers to expect them to think critically, evaluate arguments, challenge evidence, and draw their own conclusions, but we think it is worth it. Bloggers and their readers sometimes get it wrong, but that is usually because government, corporate, and other institutional gatekeeppers (including the hired press) are less forthcoming about their true motives and prevent them having access to all of the relevant information. Bloggers must then speculate on what is missing and decide for themselves what news and views are "fit to print." Readers are not reluctant to let them know whether they agree.

But George, I thought what happened at lunch stayed at lunch

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Dr. Susan Thomas, Ph.D., Public Information Czar for Mayor Dan Coody
submitted her letter of resignation yesterday. That was a smart personal public relations move, giving the appearance that it had nothing to do with the possible outcome of today's election and for getting out of a terrible situation in which she had found herself in recent years. Doing her master's bidding in some rather unpleasant deeds could not have been enjoyable nor healthy for one's self-respect.

In her letter of resignation, Dr. Thomas said her new job with the Texhoma Council of Governments "offered the potential for career advancement while also allowing me to be closer to my family" in Texas. She also said it had been a pleasure to serve the citizens and the “wonderful community” of Fayetteville. Apparently, she did not say it had been a pleasure to serve Dan Coody by taking control of the Government Channel, denying responsibility for the $68 million sewer plant debacle, and arranging daily ribbon-cutting ceremonies for every new speed bump.

When asked about the resignation of Dr. Thomas, Coody said he wished her luck. Then he threw in the salt by adding that he had no plans to replace Thomas with the comment that "this is not on our front burner." That is bureaucrat-speak for "Don't let the door knob hit you in the ass."

Dr. Thomas is not the first of Coody's top staff to jump ship. Planning Director Tim Conklin left for Springfield, Missouri, to take a job in transportation planning for Ozarks Transportation Organization.Gary D. Dumas, Coody's $112,000 Director of Operations, has been looking for jobs elsewhere, as far away as Wisconsin. Most recently, he failed to make the three finalists for a job in Fort Smith.

We wish Dr. Thomas well in her new postion and hope that she has learned from her experiences here what not to do or let happen again.


Will this bickering never end? Last May, as a part of the "reorganization" of the Government Channel, Dan Coody directed Dr. Susan Thomas PhD to fire Cable Administrator Marvin Hiltonand have him escorted from his office by an armed police officer, thus ending his 13-year career.

Then in June, Hilton, who has a degree in communications from the University of Kansas and 20 years experience in public access programming, was the only applicant for a volunteer citizen position on the Telecommunications Board. The City Council Nominating Committee 
rejected his application, because, said Alderman Adella Gray, "We just didn’t feel like it was a good fit."

The Telecommunications Board position remained vacant for three months until September 16th, when Alderman Kyle Cook brought forward the nomination of Marvin Hilton, and the City Council unanimously approved it. Mayor Coody has not yet announced whether he will veto the appointment, like he did Planning Commissioner Candy Clark, but Hilton's name appears as a member of the
Telecommunications Board on the city's website.

Now comes a broadside attack on Hilton, we have been informed, from Sky Blalock, Manager of Community Access Television, just days before the Telecommunications Board Sub-Committee meets on Monday to discuss the C.A.T. contract renewal. Reportedly, Blaylock sent out an email attack complaining about Hilton's appointment and trying to generate a campaign to have the Mayor and City Council reconsider the appointment, suggesting that they would be receptive to pressure during their own election campaigns. Blaylock was said to claim that she had extensive documentation and depositions that prove Hilton was a loser and would complicate the contract renewal process.

Bad timing for all involved, and it is unclear whether the purge campaign was approved by the C.A.T. Board. Picking a fight with a member of the Telecommunications Board during contract renewal discussions is poorly considered politics. I don't know Hilton or Blaylock, but this move could present a strong challenge to the Coody-Thomas evisceration and capture of the Government Channel for the annual Bonehead Bouquet.
Posted by Jonah at Saturday, September 27, 2008 http://img2.blogblog.com/img/icon18_edit_allbkg.gif

Thursday, August 28, 2008
If you care about Fayetteville's Government Channel, there will be a discussion of the most recent suggested policy for such programming at the Telecom Board meeting today: Cox Channel 16, at 5:30 in Room 219 City Hall. You'll also be able to call in or send an email. (The phone number and email address should be on the screen or available at 444-3436.)
The Northwest Arkansas Times is against trying to continue public forums on the Government Channel, and they don't care much for the proposed requirements for fairness, preferring to let our Mayor control and dominate the programming between now and November 4th. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has a more thoughtful analysis of the controversy.
Maybe things will be resolved after the election.

Thursday, July 17, 2008
The Fayetteville City Council this week abdicated any role in the Government Channel operations. In identical 4-3 votes, Adella Gray, Brenda Thiel, Robert Rhoads, and Bobby Ferrell voted against a resolution asking the Coody administration to follow the existing ordinance setting city policy and against enforcing that policy that allows an alderman to request production of a forum on issues of public concern. They cared not that one of Coody's assistants vetoed the alderman's legitimate request nor that the Telecommunications Board objected to that 
arbitrary action.

Dan Coody now has unfettered control to decide what appears on the Government Channel 16 -- as well as the power to prevent programs from being on the regular cablecast. While the Mayor kept questioning who would pay for production of a public forum requested by an alderman, he didn't have any problems with or explanations of who paid for 
producing his numerous press conferences and ribbon-cutting publicity stunts. Coody also complained that producing a forum would put a strain on the reduced staff of the Government Channel -- caused by his firing the professional Cable Administrator and replacing him with his public relations advisor -- that is somehow greater than or different from taping and showing the mayor talking about whatever he did yesterday.

Events last weekend provide a good example of what to expect. Coody's Government Channel programmers scheduled replays of the regular monthly Ward 4 Meeting for just after midnight on Saturday night and again at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, not exactly Prime Time even on the Government Channel. Then, mysteriously, the 
Government Channel went off the air from about 9:00 p.m. on Saturday night until sometime Sunday afternoon. This "accidental glitch" did not affect the showing of any of Coody's press conferences or ribbon-cuttings. It did prevent two showings of the most recent Ward 4 Meeting of citizens with their Aldermen, Shirley Lucas and Lioneld Jordan, to discuss the benefits of joining the Regional Mobility Authority, proposals by developers, and other issues of concern to local resident

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