Friday, November 24, 2023

Is this blog "Media"???

Jackson County, Oregon raises the question:
     What is "media" anymore?

Jackson County is drawing attention to county commissioner "salary creep." 

It is the un-intended consequence of trying to obstruct the charter-change group from getting the information they requested. The county says the charter-change group isn't "media."

Lanyards I wear at presidential campaign events

Jackson County commissioners are paid about $143,000 a year, making them by far the highest paid county commissioners of the 36 Oregon counties. The county is putting up roadblocks for documenting that salary creep, which sends a message that the county wants to hide something. 

A local citizen group is circulating a petition to make the elected county commissioner job nonpartisan, to raise the number from three to five, and to cut their salaries in about half. They have over 5,500 signatures so far.The current commissioners are on record opposing the changes. The county slow-walked its response to the group's request for the salaries of commissioners going back to 1975. After a week the county responded, but not with the requested information. Instead, they sent an invoice for $284.64, saying it needed to be paid before they would provide the information. The county used the excuse that freely giving the information to the charter-change group is not in "the public interest." The county's counsel, Joel Benton, argued in a long correspondence exchange:

[T]he County has typically only granted fee reductions or waivers to requesters who have demonstrated the ability to disseminate the records or information to wide audiences, such as requesters who represent established newspapers and media outlets.

While the public may have expressed an interest in the subject of your records request, you have not demonstrated an ability to meaningfully disseminate the information. As such, the disclosure will not primarily benefit the public and the request for a fee waiver or reduction is denied. 

This is a case study of foolish, self-destructive messaging. I am disappointed to see such boneheaded cluelessness. The county faces important problems, including the inadequate jail and homeless encampments on county land. I want the county to be good at governing, which means being good at communicating important things to county residents. I want them to have a reputation for earnest helpfulness in the public interest. Alas, no.

The county is being as un-cooperative as it is legally possible to be, at the worst possible time, on the worst subject. The overall question raised by the charter change group is whether the current commissioner structure offers good value in providing representation and communication. Yet the county's response is bureaucratic and non-transparent. The charter-change message is that the county structure is stuck in the past and needs an update. Yet the county's own excuse for obstruction is mired in the past, arguing that "established newspapers and media outlets" constitute the way local residents get their news.  

Are they joking? 

The "established newspapers" went broke and closed in Ashland and Medford. The Mail Tribune shut down earlier this year. Have they forgotten already? 

Forty years ago, when I was a commissioner, eight local radio stations had reporters on the county beat. Now there are zero. 

An "established media outlet," local TV station KTVL, closed its news department in May. The TV stations that remain direct resources to their web pages, which are now an integrated part of their news presentations. 

People get their news from Facebook, Apple News, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, podcasts, a local on-line newspapers like and local hybrid newspapers like the Rogue Valley Times and Daily Courier, web pages from organizations, mass email services like Mail Chimp, and blogs like this one. "Established newspapers" are dying off and print/online hybrids like the Rogue Valley Times are normalizing getting news on line.

Rogue Valley Times pop-up ad this morning

I don't take at face value the argument by Jackson County's counsel that "established media" is how local people would get news about commissioner salary creep. Of course he knows better. He isn't an idiot. The county is obstructing by playing dumb. People interested in the charter change and commissioners' salaries will get that information passed along from the leadership of the charter change group, whose voices are amplified, spread, posted, and through the channels of formal and informal media. Between the multiple social media sites, their own website, non-established media -- and, yes, the new versions of "established media" -- the word would get out. 

This blog is a tiny part of that network of communication. This blog is, alas, small potatoes. It has never really caught on. But even this blog got a measured 10,503 readers last month on the blogspot site plus another 30,064 via the substack site that comes by email. More views surely happen when people forward email versions of the blog, or if people read more than one story in a single visit. This is the new media landscape. It isn't established, but it is real.

The county is not so blind to reality to think that the charter change group couldn't spread the word about commissioner salary creep. That was pretext. The real reason is the opposite. People would indeed learn of it and the county thought the public might not like what they learned. The county strategy is to pretend that media is stuck in the 1980's. It isn't. 

And the longer the county delays and comes up with excuses, the more curious people will be about that salary creep problem. The county can fix this mess. Quit delaying. Quit acting like it has something to hide. Quit being a bureaucratic bully. Be the open, transparent, helpful government people want. 

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Anonymous said...

I don't understand why the historical payroll information is needed. If the salaries are way out of line with other counties, that alone is sufficient. I'm not sure that I would spend my time worrying about how much they got paid in the 1970s and 80s. It seems petty and of little value. What is the point, really?

Up Close: Road to the White House said...

Good question.

1. The point is to show salary creep over time, which creep well exceeded the rate of inflation.

2. It would have been easy to pay the $284. The group didn't because it is a perfect example of boneheaded messaging. Instead of being helpful, the county is being defensive. They created the most expensive possible figure for what it would take a clerk to look up the payroll records, then spent many many times that much money computing that and insisting on the implausible idea that the charter-change group doesn't connect with a significant group of citizens. So the point here is to show with the actions and behavior of the county what the problem is.

The smart thing would have been to have said, "sure, here are the numbers. The commissioners do helpful things like this all the time." They did the opposite. Revealing that instinct of defensive obfuscation is the point.

Peter Sage

Anonymous said...

Getting more and more ridiculous. Another obsession. Who cares about "salary creep over time"?

Only a legitimate, professional, academic researcher would NEED this data going back to the 1970s. This person would go to the library or state archives first.

The fact is that government entities cannot spend all of their time conducting archival searches for unnecessary information.

Other entities that cannot spend all of their time fulfilling POTENTIALLY ENDLESS "free" research requests include historical societies and vital records. People who want assistance and copies Need to Pay for the time involved. Stop crying about it.

Anonymous said...

People are busy with REAL work to do. There is no free lunch. Time is money. Some people have too much time on their hands, apparently. Pay the costs or forget about this silly "study."

We have to pay to get copies of our own medical records, birth certificate and bank records. That is how the world works.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this group should report the alleged waste and abuse to the Audits Division of the Secretary of State, which includes municipal and local governments. Mr. Kip Memmott is the Audits Director. Google for more information.

Anonymous said...

Go independent media and transparency in government. Boo bureaucratic bungling.

Mike said...

Transparency isn't something any government is fond of. They don't like the riffraff that pays their salaries knowing what they do with it.

Ed Cooper said...

About a month ago, ( October 26) the Board of Commissioners decided to rewrite Danny Jordans contract, in order allow him to draw his Retirement Pension while simultaneously drawing his salary as County Administrator. This was accomplished with little to ZERO public notice or input.
This is just one more reason for these Commissioners to have their cushy sinecures overhauled.

Ed Cooper said...

Anon @ 9:22
I guess we're just lucky our tax dollars don't do anything about supporting the drones in those County Offices holding the Public Records.