Monday, January 25, 2010

Updates and Comments

Jeff Fobes, the ever-genial publisher of Mountain Xpress, really does believe the part of his newspaper's mission statement about engaging in community conversation: "We treat our readers as participants in an ongoing civic dialogue."

He sends the following comment on the RandomAsheville post that he seemed annoyed with John Boyle for outing the Fisher Family Hawaii Facebook Photo Album.

He writes, "I agree with Boyle that the Fishers stepped in it, maybe two or three times. (And I also enjoyed the brash frankness of the family members’ replies.) Boyle would surely agree that it was easy pickin’s to ridicule the Fishers when the audience is fully riled."

But he  wants some journalistic depth.  "I find myself wanting some nuances. What sort of trips ARE warranted? What constitutes a junket? How does an agency evaluate whether the conference is worth going to? Who should go? The board members or the paid staff? And so on."

Still, while he agrees the junketeers aren't handling this well, he's for  forbearance:  "I too dislike junkets and waste, and this conference has a wasteful feel. Bryan Freeborn’s explanation of his trip, taken immediately prior to his leaving the board, rang hollow. But both Fisher and Gantt strike me as hard-working government representatives, so I’m wondering if we shouldn’t curb the desire to heckle and give them and the situation a fairer hearing — rather than just stir ourselves into a mood to toss tomatoes first and walk-out while any explanations are forthcoming."

Boyle's humorous opinion columns of course don't offer much depth.  But taking cheap shots at politicians for laughs is a tradition in American newspapers going back to Jonathan Oldstyle and Mark Twain.  Boyle may not be Washington Irving or Samuel Clemens but he's fun to read.  And informative.

Boyle may be more in the line of Gail Collins of The New York Times, who writes very funny op-ed columns skewering politicians. Here's an excerpt from a recent one:

"[Arlen] Specter, you will remember, switched parties last year. Democrats must be asking themselves why they wanted him. Oh, yes, the 60th vote. Well, that’s all over. The good news is that Joseph Lieberman is only about one-tenth as important as he was on Monday. The bad news is the remaining 59 includes a self-important 79-year-old who makes wildly patronizing remarks about his female opponent during a radio debate.

"To be fair, [Michelle] Bachmann does have a terrific talent for driving people nuts. When you ask a person what legislation she’s supported and the answer is 'prosperity,' you can assume this is not going to be a day for meaningful dialogue."

No nuance, no context.  Just chuckles.

Fobes, and other readers of the Citizen-Times, may have found more depth on tax-payer funded travel in the Joel Burgess-Mark Barrett detailed investigative "Travel budgets for WNC public boards detailed."

It was published "in print only" on Sunday.  Then, inexplicably, it appeared online on Monday.  If the purpose of these "in print only" pieces is to entice non-subscribers to buy the print edition, why give it away on the Web the next day?

I haven't read the Burgess-Barrett piece thoroughly yet.  On a quick look, it doesn't appear to ask a simple question.  Why do the amounts reimbursed exceed the standard IRS per diem reimbursement rates for travel?  For Greensboro, for example, the total daily rate for meals and incidentals is $44, way under the $57.71 per person cost for that one $404 evening dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House.

The State of North Carolina also has per diem guidelines for government travelers.  Why are the local boards not limiting themselves to those amounts?

And is anyone looking to see if administrators and board members at local state agencies and universities are following the guidelines?

1 comment:

  1. I hope you had a chance to read Jerry Sternberg's commentary in the Feb. 3 Xpress, for another view on the Asheville airport board members' conference trip to Hawaii.