We can disagree without being disagreeable

 

Editorial I - Right to know, right to be cussed for asking questions

 

As a journalist you don’t want to make the news, you want to report the news. You certainly don’t want the news to be a public cursing while doing your job.

Last week, the City of Clinton held a special called meeting. The issue at hand was first reading of an ordinance dissolving the Department of Public Safety. Instead of being under one umbrella, the Police Department and Fire Department would be separate.

Now we can’t make a call on whether this is a good or bad thing. We simply don’t have the information.

If you are surprised by this move, you are not alone. The topic has not come up at any City of Clinton Council meetings.

Wait a minute, isn’t there a law protecting the public’s right to know about these things? Yes, it’s called the Freedom of Information Act.

Many elected officials hate it. Some have gotten real good about getting around it.

This was the case last week. When questioned about why the matter hadn’t come up in open session, City Manager Bill Ed Cannon said he’d talked with all council members about the matter, but only three at a time, which doesn’t break the law.

True, it doesn’t break the law, but it is not in the spirit of the law. What is the spirit of the law? The public’s right to know.

Now things turn ugly. The press is being vilified nationally, but you don’t expect being attacked in your own hometown.

Larry Franklin was questioning Cannon about the above, saying Council was skirting the law. Cannon proceeded to call Franklin an “idiot.” He said he knew how to do his job and didn’t need a “d--- reporter” telling him how to do it.

He said he wouldn’t take any more questions from Franklin, but would field questions from other media. The other media declined.

On his way out of Chambers, in front of City Council, the Mayor, the media and local law enforcement, Cannon threw out a few words toward Franklin that would make a sailor blush. 

Last year, Franklin retired after 43 years with the Chronicle, rising to the rank of publisher. The Mayor and Council even honored him with a plaque. Now he works part-time and covers Council meetings for a freelance fee.

That freelance fee barely covers his gas and not much else. It certainly doesn’t cover a public cursing.

Before heading home for the evening, Franklin was pulled aside by Mayor Bob McLean, who had Cannon in tow. An apology was offered. A press release later said Cannon apologized for the outburst, but was passionate about safety.

Brian Whitmore, publisher of the Chronicle, said he’s passionate about his employees and asked Mayor and Council for a public apology. He got the press release.

“I’ve listened to the audio. Larry’s questioning was not out of line and did not warrant this outburst. No one at this paper has ever questioned Mr. Cannon’s credentials, intelligence or job performance. We want to work together with him to help make sure he is in compliance with FOI law and the spirt of the law.”

We forgive Cannon here at the Chronicle. We hope we can work together for the good of the people of Clinton. We’d much rather be reporting all the good things going on here (see Spotlight, Page B1).

We report about 90 percent good news about our town. The bad news is crime and matters like this. It’s our obligation to our readers and our community to give them all the news, good and bad.

We hope Cannon will field questions from us in the future. If he doesn’t, we’ll get around it. After all, Council is still bound by law to vote in open session.

We hope Cannon, the Mayor and Council will conduct matters in open session and be transparent. If they do that, the press and the people are happy.

To the public, next time somebody tries to hate on journalists, please remember this instance. If Larry Franklin didn’t care about your right to know, he’d have been home on the couch, watching television with his first (and only) wife, Janice.

Maybe those journalists aren’t so bad after all.

 

My Clinton News

P.O. Box 180
513 North Broad St.
Clinton, SC 29325
Phone: (864) 833-1900
Fax: (864) 833-1902

 

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