Anderson County deserves better than the chairman of the board

I recently ran into someone at Kroger who wanted to talk about the race track. They said, and I’ll have to paraphrase, ‘It’s just a tractor pull like we have all the time at the park, I don’t know what the big deal is, but that Lewis woman won’t let up on it.’

This is not a subject I have ever weighed in on, but as a citizen who sometimes goes to the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and who attends every Fiscal Court meeting unless I have a conflict, I shared the basics as I understand them:

  1. No, it is not a tractor pull like we have on occasion, for a weekend, at the park. It is a dirt race track that can be operated day and night, several days a week.
  2. People who own houses in that area will be forced to tolerate the noise and the dirt, and their homes/property will likely suffer a decrease in market value.
  3. There is a wedding venue (The Barn) nearby, an established business that I have yet to hear much concern about succeeding once the track opens.
  4. That Lewis woman—aka Magistrate Meredith Lewis—represents the people of that district, and it is her job, as their elected public servant, to stand up for them.

They did not want to hear it. They waved me off and said (this is an exact quote), “It’s been all over the paper, I know what’s going on.”

Sadly, he does not know what is going on, and this conversation represents, at its core, everything that is wrong with The Anderson News (TAN).

In basic writing class, we learned how to discern the difference between the situation and the story. In the case of the race track:

The Situation: A man is building a race track. It is a new business.

The Story: This new business may bring in revenue to the county, but it may also adversely affect the livelihoods and property values of surrounding homes. The noise and dirt associated with the track could put an existing business out of business, but there is money to be made for the town. The magistrate in this district is expected by those who elected her to stand up for them. What is the full story here?

Why does the editor of TAN regularly present situations with no context, no story? Why does he so often not ask the most basic questions any unbiased journalist would ask?

Consider these two, front-page stories last week in the Feb. 23 edition of TAN, both with incendiary headlines:

FISCAL COURT RIPPED, MAGISTRATES REFERRED TO AS ‘USELESS’

  1. Only 1/3 of the article corresponds with the title. The rest of the article is about EMS hero pay and the purchase of voting machines. Why are these not in the title?
  2. Why did Ms. Blackwell feel it necessary to take time out of her day to come to Fiscal Court with this complaint? Why was she so angry? What is the full background to her story, the steps she’d already taken where she felt unheard, to get her to this point?

The Situation: Ms. Blackwell was angry and vented her frustrations at the court.

The Story: Why was she there at all? What made Ms. Blackwell feel compelled to lash out in this manner? What is the solution to her issue? If there is no solution, why? Explain this to the public.

WELLS SAYS LEWIS SHOUD STOP CAMPAIGNING FROM BEHIND BENCH

  1. Define “campaigning.”
  2. If someone is up for election, are they no longer allowed to speak publicly for fear of being accused of “campaigning?”
  3. As a regular attendee at Fiscal Court, it is my experience that Ms. Lewis often speaks in session, asking and answering questions. This is not out of character.
  4. It is notable that the most controversial issue before the court this year—the race track—is in Ms. Lewis’s district. Her constituents are often present and ask questions about the track and the pending litigation. Should Ms. Lewis remain silent?
  5. The other 5 magistrates rarely speak in session, except to make or second motions, or to indicate they are present. This is the norm.
  6. The last 8 paragraphs (eight!) have nothing to do with the meeting or the story. The editor appears to use this article as a dumping ground to list what he perceives as the many sins of Magistrate Lewis. Why?

The Situation: Magistrate Wells, our longest-serving magistrate (since 2003), “called for an end to ‘campaigning from behind the bench’” and spoke candidly to the editor after the meeting.

The Story: Magistrate Wells rarely speaks out in session. And I cannot recall a recent newspaper interview where she is quoted at length. Why now? Ms. Wells is also running for re-election. Could her comments not also be perceived as “campaigning from behind the bench?” Why was this basic, obvious question not asked by the editor?

In fact, the editor never once mentions, in his extensive article, that Magistrate Wells is running for re-election. Why?

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FINAL OBSERVATIONS

I did not speak to anyone listed above—Ms. Blackwell, Magistrate Lewis, Magistrate Wells, the owners of The Barn—for this story. I have no dog in this fight, as they say. These are simply my observations as a writer, and I find them alarming because they follow an insidious pattern.

I was disturbed by last week’s newspaper coverage, and I was disturbed by my conversation with the person at Kroger. I go to many of the meetings where the track is discussed, I read TAN every week, and I can see exactly how this person came to their conclusion: We have a newspaper editor who presents situations with no story, no context. And it is embarrassingly easy to tell whom the editor likes, whom he considers a friend or part of the club, and whom he despises.

This is not how a newspaper is supposed to work.

As a man who grew up here often says, “The most divisive thing about our town is not our politics, it is our newspaper.”

He is right. And if there is a good old boys club here, our newspaper editor is chairman of the board.