Ever wonder what it’s like to sit in the columnist chair? Here is Rule No.1 before touching the keyboard: Get it right.
Here are rules No. 2 and No. 3: Get it right. Get it right.
Not everyone is going to agree with a writer’s opinion, but no one should be able to fault the facts on which the opinion is based. They should be more watertight than a shark’s backside. This is doubly true when publicly accusing someone of a crime, which sticks with people their whole lives.
Unfortunately, these are operational maxims that a group of a dozen people in Mount Dora, including two former City Council members, do not follow. That’s so bad for a community.
Last week, the group filed a complaint claiming that five of the city’s seven council members conspired behind the scenes in violation of the Florida’s Sunshine Law to change the title of the city’s planning director to deputy city manager and to pay him $20,000 more annually for the extra work.
And what actual evidence do these 12 folks, a number of whom are behind an online political blog, have to offer? Although they filed 70 pages with the complaint, it boils down to this: They just know.
“How is it possible that five City Council members, having previously not discussed in a public meeting the need for a No. 2 city manager position, all independently come up with the idea to discuss it” with two city manager candidates, they wrote in a May 28 letter to the State Attorney’s Office.
The fact that five of the council members had the same idea proves they are in cahoots! Break out the handcuffs!
Good heavens. What would these folks think if newspaper columnists wrote such damning accusations without evidence? They’d freak out and dash to their lawyer’s office.
Worst of all, this group got the facts wrong.
The complaint repeatedly claimed that the issue of an assistant city manager never came up in a public meeting since Jan. 1. That’s untrue. Mayor Cathy Hoechst suggested during the April 7 meeting that the council consider an assistant city manager.
Two weeks later, council members chose a new city manager, and a couple weeks after that Hoechst brought up the issue at another public meeting, and council members approved the idea. In addition, the possibility of a second-in-command has been discussed on-and-off in Mount Dora for some years. It’s hardly a revolutionary new idea that just popped into the heads of five council members.
To make matters even more embarrassing, one of the signers of the complaint — this one doesn’t even live in Mount Dora — told a Sentinel reporter the position is “costing an extra $120,000 a year.” Oops. Wrong again! Time to check those pesky facts!
Council members voted to promote longtime planning and zoning director Mark Reggentin, who has served as the unofficial deputy city manager without extra pay for years, but he’ll also continue as the planning director. No one new is being hired. Reggentin is getting an additional $20,000 annually, not $120,000, for taking on extra duties. Of course, claiming the higher number makes it more inflammatory, doesn’t it? We can all get behind that one, can’t we?
This is what happens when sloppy researchers try to make the “facts” fit their opinion instead of doing it the legitimate way — researching the facts and then deciding what is right or wrong.
Unfortunately, the taint of accusation will stick to those five council members, one of whom is Hoechst.
“I did nothing wrong, and the thing that irritates me the most is that people are able to do this, and when it’s found to be something no one did, they still get to say at election time, ‘Well, she was under investigation.’ And that’s what they’re going to say,” said Hoechst, who has drawn early opposition from a former council member — the darling of the complainers — for the Nov. 3 election.
The mayor is right on this one. Who files a complaint so baseless actually accusing elected officials of crimes without some other agenda in play?
Things are taking a dirty little turn in Mount Dora, and it would serve folks well to do their own research and form their own opinions.
Original article here.