Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gordon Smith Opens Mouth

Be careful when mixing liquor with politics
John Boyle | AC-T | Sep 22, 2012

“Journalist” and “media” sure have loose meanings these days — Asheville City Councilman, local counselor and Scrutiny Hooligans blogger Gordon Smith attended the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte on a media pass and proceeded to — let me word this gently — make a bit of a spectacle of himself.

He apparently snuck in a Dasani water bottle filled with a white liquor with a remarkably pungent aroma and proceeded to offer it around to folks in the press area.

This drew some odd looks from news organizations’ actual journalists. Smith also raised eyebrows by clapping enthusiastically during a speech, clearly violating the “no cheering in the press box” rule.

Hey, some may argue that he’s just doing what journalists have done for ages — drinking and being biased. Or maybe he felt the need to be a little oiled up for Obama’s speech. Who knows, maybe he just wanted to publicize the mountain moonshine tradition.

While it may be best to approach all politicians’ orations with a buzz on, allow me to get a tad sanctimonious for a second. Those of us who actually try to be fair and portray events accurately — and stay sober while doing so — take umbrage at someone calling themselves a “media” representative and then swigging moonshine at an event they’re allegedly “covering.”

Smith told me via email that he makes no effort to hide his bias, or to call himself a “journalist.” He got in on a “media” pass, he said. As far as the white liquor, he was pretty open about it.

“Neither journalists nor counselors are required to be teetotalers, and the other journalists who enjoyed the beverage in question at the convention can attest to that,” Smith said via email. “I could write about all of them, but that would be delving into their personal lives in a way that doesn’t suit me.”

“If you’d like to learn about some of my other experiences at the convention, whether it was meeting with Democratic municipal officials, watching the national media get tipsy at the Politico Lounge, or attending hours of caucus meetings, please feel free to contact me,” he went on. “It was quite an experience, one I’ll never forget.”

Side notes: How does a “media” person with the word “hooligans” in their organization’s title get past Secret Service security checks? Is security no longer concerned about liquids?

Anyway, people like his approach, Smith insists.

“I wear my bias on my sleeve, and the product is something that folks seem to like,” Smith said. “There was no mistaking that I was there as a friendly presence.”

Fair enough...

Email exchange between Boyle and Smith:

John Boyle:

Hi Gordon,

I’m working on a column for Sunday about some of the recent uproar over candidates’ wording (Obama and his “you didn’t bulid that,” Romney’s 47 percent brouhaha), and I’m mentioning the lawyer in the evidence room case suing “the office of district attorney” instead of Ron Moore, and the case getting tossed.

Those pesky words can be tricky, you know.

I was intrigued that you got into the DNC as a “journalist” and then proceeded to sneak in a Dasani bottle full of moonshine and offer it around, not to mention some flagrant cheering in the press box.

Needless to say, we have enough challenges as journalists without blogger/counselors behaving this way. I’d like to get some comment from you on this, today if at all possible. Some questions:

– Do you consider yourself a “journalist?’
– Why did you feel it was appropriate to bring moonshine to the DNC?
– Why were you cheering in the press box?

John Boyle

Gordon Smith:

Thanks, John, for reaching out.

I’m surprised at your perspective, and I’ll do my best to respond to your questions.

I’ve been blogging at Scrutiny Hooligans for over eight years, and the Democratic National Convention Committee offered bloggers the opportunity to get media passes. I applied and was accepted along with a colleague. My passes read “Media”, not “journalist”. We had a great time. Your colleagues, the folks who invited me to join them in the Gannett press box, Jon Ostendorff and Casey Blake, referred to me as an “advocacy journalist”, which I think is pretty generous. I referred to myself as a blogger. I asked to join them in their section for part of the convention, and they graciously invited me to do so. I spent some of all three convention days with them.

I am someone who records his thoughts, experiences and perspective across a number of online media platforms. I’ve been doing it for years. In addition to blogging at Scrutiny Hooligans, I also tweeted, Facebooked, and Instagrammed my experience at the convention in an effort to share it with the people of western North Carolina. I wear my bias on my sleeve, and the product is something that folks seem to like. There was no mistaking that I was there as a friendly presence.

As to “cheering” in the press box. That’s incorrect. At one point on the first or second day of the convention, I forgot where I was and began clapping in response to a speech being given. I got about two claps out before it dawned on me that the behavior wasn’t appropriate for the section I was in, and I slow-clapped my way down. It was funny and embarrassing in a Seinfeldesque sort of way. I then tweeted about it to explain that I’d learned a lesson and to let folks cringe at my embarrassment!

I did plenty of cheering at other times, in other areas. I was inspired and deeply moved by many of the speeches, especially Bill Clinton’s. Gabby Giffords’ recitation of the pledge of allegiance had me on my feet applauding as well. It was a great event that reflected some of the best things about our nation – definitely worth cheering about. I’m also a generally enthusiastic person. I cheered for you when you wrote that “Moffitt Ruling Like a King” article!

The stark contrast between the enthusiasm of the delegates and the focus of the paid media was one of the hallmarks of the entire experience for me. I appreciated Jon and Casey allowing me to join them. Never did I imagine that doing so would earn me a negative place in one of your columns. Another lesson learned.

Neither journalists nor counselors are required to be teetotalers, and the other journalists who enjoyed the beverage in questions at the convention can attest to that. I could write about all of them, but that would be delving into their personal lives in a way that doesn’t suit me.

If you’d like to learn about some of my other experiences at the Convention, whether it was meeting with Democratic Municipal Officials, watching the national media get tipsy at the Politico Lounge, or attending hours of caucus meetings, please feel free to contact me. It was quite an experience, one I’ll never forget.

I hope this is helpful,

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Big Water Meeting

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
#BIGWATERMEETING In attendance: Bothwell, Bellamy, Fisher, Mannheimer, Pelly, Chuck McGrady, Smith, Davis, Shoaf #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
TJ recording video #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Shoaf makes routine Powerpoint presentation. #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Mentions referendum in passing as part of future actions pending. #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Shoaf covers the LRC recommendations accurately. Discussing recent talks with effected agencies. #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Bellamy asks McGrady his thoughts on the upcoming referendum. #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
McGrady: [light chuckle] "Frankly, I question the wisdom of the referendum" #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
McGrady: "Neither outcome of the referendum gets us to the intent of the recommendations made." #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
McGrady: "Council is a good advocate for the status quo" #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
McGrady: "Barring change in sentiment in GA or findings of fact contrary to LRC, GA will introduce bill to effect recommendations." #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Davis: "I feel that the LRC process was disingenuous" #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Davis: "If I was Woodfin, I wouldn't want be a part of this thing either." #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Davis: "System takeover will add a layer of cost." #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Bothwell: "It looks like no matter what we do we will be forced to consolidate" [not sale or lease, eh, Cecil?] #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Smith: "We're being asked to negotiate in good faith with a proposal that was not made in good faith." #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Smith: "It's heartening to know that if the merger is too expensive it might not take place." [looks into audience for approval] #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Bellamy: "I wanted to do this in public and not behind closed doors." [that's a switch] #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
McGrady: "I'm sorry Rep. Moffitt couldn't be here but he is in a committee meeting today." [so THAT's why he's not here] #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Fisher: "I was very happy to get Woodfin boundary issue accomplished this session." [something on Moffitt's website about that ] #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Question of compensation broached by Bothwell in his general edgy comments. McGrady had no reply. Sat silent, inwardly grinning. #avlgov

Tim Peck ‏@timothypeck
Mayor thanks everyone. Pelly had no questions or comments. No further discussion. No public comment solicited. Meeting adjourned. #avlgov

Monday, September 10, 2012

Water Referendum

"Public bodies .. exist solely to conduct the people's business .. Every public body shall keep full and accurate minutes of all official meetings, including any closed sessions .. Such minutes and accounts shall be public records .. [However, ] minutes .. of a closed session .. may be withheld from public inspection so long as public inspection would frustrate the purpose of a closed session. "

NC law mandates that accurate minutes be kept of closed sessions. "When a public body meets in closed session, it shall keep a general account of the closed session so that a person not in attendance would have a reasonable understanding of what transpired."

Once a matter discussed in closed session is resolved, such as a lawsuit or settlement, the records of any proceeding of a public body must be disclosed to the owners of those proceedings: the public. Therefore, after the special election in November, publication of the minutes of the closed session on referendum language would no longer frustrate the purpose of the closed session and can be made public.

Council took up the matter of a water system referendum on August 14th. They deliberated, sought legal counsel and offered up variations on the wording. They settled on language for the referendum at that time and took a vote.

Why is this matter being revisited on August 30th?

Why did city attorney feel that he needed to further advise city council on referendum language that had already been approved by a unanimous vote more than two weeks ago? And why in closed session?

Clearly a change in the language was being contemplated.

Who suggested changing the referendum language?

How did they want the referendum to be differently worded?

What triggered consideration of a change in the language?

The law states, "A motion based on [attorney/client privilege] shall identify the parties in each existing lawsuit concerning which the public body expects to receive advice during the closed session.

What was the lawsuit connected with reconsideration of the language of the water referendum?

David Lawrence of the UNC School of Government states in his book 'County and Municipal Government in North Carolina,' that "the public body [city council] may give instructions to the attorney about handling or settling claims, litigation or other proceedings."

The referendum does not involve any claims, litigation or any other legal or court proceedings. And the advice was being given BY the attorney TO city council, not the other way around. It was Bob Oast who started the reconvened meeting by recommending that council go directly into closed session without discussion to hear his advice on the agenda item. Upon ending the closed session, council unanimously chose to take no further action on reconsideration of the language of the water system referendum.

Bob Oast states, "The outcome of the vote on the sale or lease of the water system would only affect the City’s ability to sell or lease the system. It would not affect the City’s ability to seek compensation if the transfer occurs in other ways."

This tells me that the purpose of the closed session was to discuss the issue of compensation. It also tells me that the city fully acknowledges that a transfer of the system will occur in other ways and that the referendum is being conducted solely as a political survey, which is not the intended function of the referendum process. The intended function is to effect the law. Council member Manheimer is on record stating that she favors the referendum because it will gauge the mood of the public.
"At our worksession we introduced the idea, or collectively, I introduced the idea of conducting a referendum in the next election, which would be the November election, regarding the potential sale or transfer of our water system. And let me just explain where this is coming from. The legislative study committee that concluded its work this last year stated that if the City of Asheville was in active negotiation regarding its water system that the city would avoid legislation that would effectively change the status of the water system by either creating an independent authority or transferring it to MSD. So, as you've already heard, the city, in compliance with that legislative study committee report, has put together a group to begin talking to MSD and we haven't done that yet but we've framed up a situation so that talk to MSD and then just in general just explore all of our options and try to understand what the possibilities are. We have stated though as a body that we're not in favor of any legislation transferring our water system. There is a statute, 160A-321, that was enacted by the legislature in the 2011 session which became effective January 1, 2012, which specifically says that if a city is considering the sale or lease of its water system it may conduct a referendum of its citizens to gauge whether or not there is approval of such a sale or lease. Since in any negotiation on the part of the city, again, looking at a scenario where the city is avoiding any legislation mandating a change, any negotiation that the city would enter into would contemplate a sale or lease. There may be other options too but sale or lease are the obvious two options. Since any negotiation might, would, contemplate those options we felt that it was very appropriate, under the statute, to conduct such a referendum since that information is absolutely necessary for the city council to know before it takes any independent action with regard to its water system. So, let me be very clear, we're not sitting up here saying we're ready to take action and sell or lease the water system. That is not the case. However, since we are required to enter into voluntary negotiations, and those negotiations ultimately would look at the sale or lease of the system, we feel it is necessary to use the statute to hold a referendum to understand the sentiment of the citizenry of Asheville on this issue. -Mannheimer, City Council Meeting, 8/14/2012, (time mark: 01:56:37)
The Legislative Research Commission’s Metropolitan Sewerage/Water System Committee did not recommend that Asheville sell or lease a public enterprise that they do not own. This is the recommendation:

"The Committee recommends that the 2013 Session of the North Carolina General Assembly consolidate the Public Utility Water System with the Metropolitan Sewerage District of Buncombe County. Should the interested governments craft their own solution for consolidation, which achieves all the objectives of the Committee, before the 2013 North Carolina General Assembly convenes, due consideration would be given to the local plan. Action will not be taken if the parties are engaged in good-faith negotiations on this matter."

Additionally, since the city has already taken $100M out of the water system for their general fund, it's unclear at this time whether or not Asheville will actually owe money after the merger.