The Public Hearing at the Senior Center this past Tuesday, May 12, 2015, was well attended as stated in Mychal Wilson’s front page article in Wednesday Alliance Times-Herald. His presence and his article was much appreciated as is his coverage of city meetings and happenings around town. He was certainly correct in saying that the vast majority of the audience remarks were in favor of the city becoming the new managers of Public Transit and restoring Friday services and hopefully introducing additional ones.
I do have a concern however in his coverage of this legally city-called open public hearing. In the first paragraph on the second page he remarked (paraphrasing) that a question concerning how the city would pay for the possible additional transit services had been met with boos and hisses from the audience. I was within three to four feet from Wilson when he asked the question and although I heard remarks uttered around us, and perhaps also by me, I heard NO boos or hisses. The remarks were more of the nature that the subject had been generally dealt with in the ongoing conversation. This was not a ‘budget hearing,’ but a public hearing where the city officials were garnering ideas, concerns and responses from the very people most affected by the service. It was part of the NDOR (Nebraska Dept. of Roads) application process.
The comment I made about trying for a “sound byte” was indeed addressed to the reporter Wilson. However, it was about a half dozen words pulled out of my longer comments that were spoken to him concerning what I perceived as questions he formed in trying to extract figures and facts from City Manager Cox and Mayor Yeager, and requesting exact details and promises from the officials. Cox, at one point, did not give him a “yes or no” response that he was seeking and Wilson pointed this out. Cox responded that it wasn’t that simple (whatever the question was) and that part of it was “yes” and part of it was “no.” In his question to Mayor Yeager concerning those persons, businesses or organization that may contribute to the expenses of this venture … Yeager didn’t mention names that may or have already contributed. I didn’t hear him say there were any that already had contributed … But for Mychal Wilson to imply that he declined to give those names? Of course he was not going to make those names public at this time. That would not have been the right way or the time to disclose this type of support.
To me, as a retired reporter for the Alliance Times-Herald, I felt those types of questions may have been more useful and appropriate in a one-to-one interview or a news conference. I never claimed to be a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter; however I knew that in a Public Hearing I was there to report the news — not “make the news.” I gathered information and wrote my story based on the opinions of the audience and the responses of those conducting the hearing. Afterward I probably would request an interview for clarification or for pointed questions not covered in the hearing. I would have probably written a companion story or a follow-up.
In my remarks, other than the one I really had no business making about the “sound bytes,” I expressed my personal relief that the city had stepped forward to become the Public Transit vender in Alliance. I agree whole heartedly with the majority of the audience about Friday services and hopefully weekends and special events. The people of Alliance and Hemingford need and deserve properly managed services with responsible financial records maintained.
In my defense concerning the “sound byte” remark … Wilson did question me after the hearing and I believe he said he was disappointed in me and felt I had been rude to say that. I admitted it was quite rude and I did apologize to him. I knew when it came out of my mouth that it was wrong to say that in an open meeting and I felt angry with myself for doing so. I felt that he had accepted my abject apology … then I read the article. Imagine my surprise to see the one ignorant statement I had made actually in the article.
There is a moral to this story. When we make really stupid, hurtful statements like I did, we can expect them to come back and bite us. And it did. So whether it is at a meeting, a letter, on Twitter or Facebook … your words can hurt and can bite. Good lesson even at my age.
Keep up the good work Mychal Wilson. Basically, you are doing a great job.