Friday, April 20, 2007

Of Football and Town Managers

I didn't get a column written last week. It was a deadline week for me for a couple projects, and on those weeks I usually don't have any free time at the computer. And we got another dog, so that certainly added to the chaos.

We rescued Scout (named after the narrator of my favorite book, "To Kill a Mockingbird"), an 8-month-old yellow lab female from a shelter in Greeley. It took no time--and I mean
no time--for her and Oliver to become instant pals. We couldn't ask for a better companion, and if you've got one dog, getting another really isn't a big deal. Kind of like children. For me, the difference between having one and two was no biggie; the difference between two and three was huge. By the time number four appeared, there just wasn't anything left to say.

Today the kids are home from school, so things will get noisy here as soon as the boys awaken (around 11:30 or so). I've been thinking about a couple things in particular lately:

What's with the mystery surrounding the hiring of a new high school football coach? Who decided this is how the recruitment should be conducted, and does that person not realize that there is already such a high level of distrust between the school board and the community? This secrecy isn't helping matters. I get that maybe the hiring committee doesn't want to have to deal with pushy parents who want more control and say than they should have, so they're keeping dealings on the lowdown. But if that's the case, why couldn't they just say, "Hey, this is our job, not yours. This is football. Just a game. Let us do our job."

And how about that letter to the editor in the Tribune earlier this week, the one by Mary Koehler, who voiced her concerns over interim town manager Kelly Arnold? Arnold is one of three finalists in the running for our town manager, and Koehler wrote a letter about the circumstances under which he left his last job, which was city manager of Grand Junction. The Tribune published the letter, but then wasted a lot of space chiding Koehler for her "speculation."

But the facts as I read them in the Grand Junction paper were that Arnold knew the fire chief (a guy named Beaty) was using and selling narcotics. And he did nothing about it except to place him on PAID leave, and even that didn't happen until months after a formal DEA investigation of Beaty was completed. The city attorney reported that he went to Arnold with the chief's confession on tape and the suggestion to fire Beaty. Arnold claimed he never knew of any DEA investigation, nor did he listen to a confession, nor did anyone ever suggest he fire Beaty. He never even requested Beaty take a drug test.

He also claimed the scandal had nothing to do with his resignation, but the timing, then, is a bit curious. The DEA investigation was completed in September; city officials didn't ask for the results until December. Beaty announced his resignation in late March, and Arnold said that was when he was "planning" to conduct a formal review of the situation. Beaty officially left the department on May 1, but Arnold saw that he got paid until that date.

Add to that the fact that the police chief quit months before Arnold resigned, and when the manager's resignation was made public, the police chief publicly stated had he known Arnold was going to step down, he would have stayed. A reporter in GJ told me some people saw Arnold as an empire builder, unapproachable from a public standpoint. I haven't talked with Arnold personally...I have no feel for him one way or the other, but I know what I've read. I did search for other articles about him online, something that would shine a positive light on him. Couldn't find anything. it speculation that he left GJ under difficult circumstances? Nope. It's fact.

And what I've read of and been told about the situation raises some questions in my mind. How can the city attorney and Arnold have directly opposing claims as to how events unfolded? Why were there so many disgruntled people in GJ under Arnold's watch, and why was his staff (according to our Tribune) "dysfunctional at best" in the end? Why, in the face of evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt, didn't Arnold get rid of Beaty? Shortly after the town board hired Arnold as our interim manager, I contacted a member to ask if they knew about the controversy leading up to his resignation, and the anwswer was "what controversy are you specifically talking about?" The member assured me that references were checked, but no one in his right mind is going to list a reference if that person isn't absolutely certain to give a positive response.

So then I did a little research on the consulting firm that Windsor's town board worked with to find a town manager. And what do you know? The same firm Windsor worked with to find a candidate also worked with Grand Junction to replace Kelly Arnold. How convenient was that? Could that be why this information about Arnold wasn't shared with our board? (And yes, this IS speculation, but I'm entitled to it.) I'd have a hard time believing the consultants were unaware of the situation in Grand Junction.

I can't speak for anyone else, but this sort of murkiness doesn't sit well with me.

For those interested, here's Koehler's letter:

Take a closer look at manager candidates

This past weekend my husband and I visited friends in Grand Junction. I mentioned to them that Windsor’s current interim city manager had formerly been the city manager of Grand Junction.
Our friends were of course familiar with the name Kelly Arnold. They also shared some information that I believe the residents of Windsor would be interested in knowing.
All of this was “public” knowledge to the residents of Grand Junction, for it was printed in the Grand Junction Sentinel in May 2006 and again in December 2006.
During Mr. Arnold’s time as town manager three key people resigned: The police chief, the community developer and the fire chief. The fire chief had been under investigation for using and distributing hallucinogenic drugs.
The terms Mr. Arnold left Grand Junction under appear to me to be questionable. Mr.
Arnold has led residents to believe he was “just re­evaluating his career and future” when he himself resigned from the town manager position in Grand Junction. Maybe he was, but there may be more to it.
I am disappointed that the local papers have not done investigative reporting on this matter. Windsor residents deserve to be informed about events that affect their town and its future.
The town of Windsor has narrowed the candidates for the new town manager. Kelly Arnold is one of the final three. As a taxpayer and registered voter, I do not support the consideration of Mr. Arnold.
Concerned in Windsor, MARY KOEHLER

And here's the Trib's opinion:
Get the news, not the gossip

Stories about town manager candidate mostly speculation

One of the main jobs of a newspaper is to decide what is and what is not news.
When the Windsor Tribune first learned current Windsor interim
town manager Kelly Arnold’s last year as Grand Junction city manager was a struggle, we looked into allegations that he could not manage the town of roughly 60,000.
What we found was a city manager at the end of his rope due in part to a city council that couldn’t get along with one another and a staff that had become dysfunctional — at best.
What we didn’t find was that Arnold was to blame for anything.
The police chief resigned because he didn’t like Arnold.
The community development director resigned for no real clear reason.
And the fire chief retired amid an investigation he’d been using and selling hallucinogenic drugs and Ecstasy.
It’s not uncommon for employees to quit because they don’t get along with their boss. It happens in every industry. If we reported on that every time it happened, there would be no space in the paper left for anything else.
In a June 22 column in the Grand Junction Free Press, current Grand Junction City Council member Jim Spehar said Bob Blanchard’s departure as community development director was nothing new to the city.
“His five-year tenure surpassed the total for several of his immediate predecessors,” Spehar wrote.
As for the fire chief, Arnold can’t be blamed for the criminal decisions made by others. The fact that Arnold didn’t act on it in the time frames some wanted doesn’t point to wrongdoing.
A May 21 editorial that ran in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel said it best about where the problem really seemed to lie: “A city manger’s job is one of the most damnable occupations, period,” the editorial said. “And reporting to the seven different personalities and preening egos that made up what has appeared fairly routinely over the past two years to be a fundamentally dysfunctional Grand Junction City Council had to be beyond Arnold or any other sane person’s capacity to endure.”
The average term for a town or city manager is roughly six years. Arnold’s tenure in Grand Junction was nearing that.
The city council was accustomed to 4-3 votes on the measures that came before them. With that, Arnold quickly lost the ability to deliver any measure of predictability to his staff.
In its editorial, the Sentinel also said it believed “Arnold was being pilloried for not shepherding (Fire Chief Rick) Beaty to an exit door at least three months earlier than when Beaty announced his own departure.”
Everything that surrounded Arnold’s final year in Grand Junction was speculation.
Creating a story out of speculation is not what this newspaper is about.
We came to the conclusion after countless interviews with Arnold, people in Grand Junction closely connected to the case and the Windsor Town Board that there was no story to be written.
However, a letter to the editor in today’s paper chose to point out that speculation without basis or fact.
The facts are: Three people resigned or retired under Arnold’s watch. The City Council in Grand Junction never asked Arnold to resign. In fact, Spehar also wrote in his column that Arnold left some big shoes to fill. He pointed to Arnold’s ability to solve problems between the Chamber of Commerce, the town and developers.
“Kelly provided a fresh set of eyes and ears and a different attitude that bridged many gaps and aided in resolving that particular conflict to the extent that it could ever be fully resolved,” Spehar said.
We firmly believe Arnold has been honest with the Windsor Town Board, the consultant hired to narrow the field of applicants and himself on the matter — since long before he was hired to act as interim town manager.
We also believe Arnold has the wherewithal to lead Windsor into the next decade and further if it comes to that.
We trust that our elected officials will do what is best for the town in their selection of a candidate. And following that announcement we will support whatever decision they make.
We urge Windsor residents to do the same and not let speculation and hearsay guide you through life.


Anonymous said...

Dogs, dogs, everywhere there are dogs! We have had that 'what's one more' attitude for a long time until our dogs don't get along. We now have a German Shepard-Border collie mix and two terrier mixes. Not a good combo...I'll stick with retrievers any day!
What a great picture of Scout and Oliver! Thanks for sharing!

Mary said...

Sounds to me like it's high time for a REAL newspaper publisher to step up to the plate and give Windsor a REAL newspaper. This is just a microcosm of the bullshit that's happening all over our country, where the fine line between editorial/journalistic integrity -- previously a highly regarded and jealously protected staple of running any media outlet -- has finally been murdered and left to die by the forces of greed, who can't bring themselves to risk advertiser dollars in support of the truth.

It's the media that's always been the watchdog of governments large and small. That many of our current news outlets (most blatantly the large TV networks, but also prevalent in the large newspaper conglomerates) have abandoned this post, which used to be such a proud element of newsgathering, portends a bleak future for democracy.

Anonymous said...

The worst mistake the town board did was to make Arnold the interim manager while he was candidate for the permanent position. They should have hired a temp that was not in the running. that way all the candidates would be on an equal field.
Rick Stelzer

Anonymous said...

You know what Rebecca, you hit the nail on the head. You are entitled to your speculation, but I think that's what the Trib was trying to say. They cannot speculate, see there is this thing called liable. And as I've said before, you come really close here with your column. I'd be very careful what I say and whom I say it about. Just because you title it opinion doesn't make it legal in all instances.
You can have all the opinions you want about people but if its not true and you lead people to believe it is, its liable and you'll find yourself writing you blog from the library because you'll be too broke from the lawsuit that ensues.

Rebecca Valentine said...

You clearly don't understand libel law. In order to commit libel, the author must present opinion as fact. I present facts as they were presented in the newspaper and clearly state the portions of my column that are my own opinion.

In addition, libel must include malicious intent on the part of the author. Again, I did not write this out of malice. I've nothing against Arnold personally; I just have serious doubts that he is who should be leading this town. And judging by response to this particular column, I'm not alone.

Finally, in order for libel to be proven, whoever might sue me would have to prove beyond doubt that what I've written did not happen. Read my column again...I've written nothing that hasn't already appeared in print. It's already been printed in both of Windsor's papers, even. So it's not like I'm defamating Arnold with "secret" information. It's public knowledge.

I know libel law. I also have the courage of my convictions to sign my name to what I write. Pity that you don't.