EDITORIAL

Nothing cowardly or despicable about civic duty

Posted

Even for the few of us who regularly attend Community Board 8 meetings, many may not be aware of a monthly meeting of all the committee chairs and officers known as the executive committee.

The only outsiders who seem to be in regular attendance is a reporter from this very newspaper. And unlike other meetings, which work to create space for the community to observe and interact, that doesn’t happen with the executive committee, where everyone crams into a small conference room.

Despite the lack of audience, the executive committee meetings could be some of the most important meetings CB8 holds. This is where everything collected from the various committees comes together for its first group discussion, before heading off to the regular board meeting, typically a few days or a week later.

But the December executive committee, apparently, was one no one should have missed. That’s because at that meeting, CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty decided to devote 10 minutes of official business not talking about board issues, but instead attacking The Riverdale Press, and its editor.

She claimed the editor was “unethical” because he imposed a deadline on her to respond — six days after she refused to speak to him following a regular board meeting, and didn’t respond to follow-up communication.

But that (and the fact she was using official board time to attack the media) wasn’t the worst of what happened in that 10-minute span. What was worse was that she attacked every board member who has chosen to communicate directly with this paper as “cowardly,” calling such behavior “despicable.”

According to Ginty, if a board member has an issue with what she’s doing, their only course of action is to come to her — even if they feel that such a move might prove not only unfruitful, but detrimental to their ability to continue serving on the community board.

Ginty seems to believe that the only person allowed to communicate with the press is her — even if she’s not really doing it. And that no one on the community board has the right to express their concerns to whomever they like, even to a reporter.

Ginty doesn’t want to admit this or acknowledge this, but there has been a civil war brewing in the community board over the last year. It’s become more and more evident by the number of people reaching out to the paper, and even some of the revolving door that has plagued committee chairs and even officers.

And it’s not this newspaper’s or any media outlet’s fault that it’s happening. We are simply the messengers of information, and we all know what we should never do to the messenger, according to the old saying.

Those who choose to talk to the media to expose things they feel need to be exposed (and wouldn’t be otherwise) is not cowardly. It’s actually quite courageous. And if it weren’t for those people finding the courage to do so, we likely wouldn’t even have a country that we all love to speak of.

Television’s History channel talked last year about information “leaked” to the media, and how it changed our country, starting with the publication of a packet of letters from the Massachusetts governor to a British official in the Boston Gazette in 1773 that called for more British troops in the colonies to spur what appeared to be an uprising.

Those letters were leaked anonymously by someone who literally risked the penalty of death for doing so, and the man who would eventually become our second president — John Adams — is the one who ensured these leaked documents were published.

And many credit this publication as one of the major pushes that allowed the Revolutionary War to even happen.

In more modern times, the 1970s was rocked with major leaks that included what was known as the “Pentagon Papers,” which revealed that a few presidential administrations outright lied about goals and even progress in the Vietnam War.

And then there was Watergate — a scandal, that only was possible thanks to chats and information exchanges between the FBI’s associate director and reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Those leaks ultimately brought down Richard Nixon — but is Mark Felt a coward? Was he despicable?

Nothing that CB8 or Ginty is doing comes anywhere near the level of those “leaks,” but that doesn’t change the right — and the courage — of anyone who chooses to expose issues by talking to the media.

We agree. If there are issues, they should be addressed with the chair first. The chair should have every opportunity to rectify those issues.

But that’s not always possible, or when it is, those issues aren’t always rectified. Sometimes it needs a spotlight shined on it in order to make change where change is needed.

That’s a principal aspect of our democracy, and one anyone who is in charge of spending our taxpayer dollars should be aware of.

Ginty says she is being targeted by this paper, not only by our inquiries, but also by a recent public records request, which still remains mostly unfulfilled. But the chair is wrong — the target is not any person or any organization. The target is transparency, and guaranteeing that it does indeed exist, as it should, from a government body.

That is, once again, the role of media. And sometimes government is not going to like when media pushes topics like that, and that’s fine. We’re not here to be friends with government. We’re here to provide our Constitutional duty to oversee government on behalf of our readers (and the people).

Let’s save attacks on the media during official time and name-calling to the man living in the White House. We are better than that.

And when it comes to receiving public records requests — the best way to limit them, at least from many media outlets like this one, is to actually be transparent, and not give reporters reason to doubt it. Right now, we do have reason to doubt it, thus our public records request.

There is nothing cowardly or despicable about doing the right thing, even if that means taking unofficial paths to achieve it.

We should welcome any chance to do the right thing, not demonize those who simply want to make our community a better place.

Comments