I’ve been thinking about this phone-hacking scandal that took down the British tabloid News of the World and threatens the very empire of Rupert Murdoch and I have two thoughts.
1. While Murdoch did not know what was going on, I believe there is an institutional culture which he helped create. I’m sure there was intense pressure on his news organizations to produce and not too many questions asked as to how that production was facilitated.
2. The nature of the scandal is so … impersonal. And I get it. Who wants to be the jerk who asks the question bound to elicit discomfort? Who wants to be the outsider asking a grieving family member about the loss of a loved one hours or days after a tragic event?
When I broke into journalism during the previous Ice Age before the advent of this thing called the internet, my most modern technological asset was the telephone. You had to call people. And meet with people. And actually speak with them directly.
This was of benefit during one story I did for the Elko Nevada Daily Free Press about new strip club regulations which mandated a certain distance be maintained between the burlesque talent and their patrons.
My undercover investigative reporting determined that the dancers were indeed adhering to the new regulations.
I did not even get a phone number.
It’s the not talking (or the not asking) which is the problem plaguing modern journalism. It’s just so much easier to stare at a computer screen and to “analyze” the work of others versus risking a personal interaction.
Unfortunately, the seeming goal of modern technology is to limit personal interaction as much as possible.
To answer a couple of questions readers have asked me about in the past few weeks:
1.) Does Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht make more money than California Governor Jerry Brown? Answer: Wilbrecht makes a base salary of $199,000 annually plus benefits. The latest report we could find on Governor’s pay showed Gov. Jerry Brown making just under $174,000.
2.) If the airport litigation appeal to the California Supreme Court has been denied, and the Town has exhausted its legal remedies, isn’t the litigation considered settled? Therefore, should settlement negotiations with Mammoth Lakes Land Acquisition be closed session items protected by the Brown Act?
From former Town Manager and current Town consultant MMMartinez:
“Even though the litigation has resulted in a judgment and the time to appeal has passed, the court retains jurisdiction over the judgment until it is satisfied. Settlement discussions may properly occur in closed session as having the discussion in open session would undermine the Town’s bargaining position. Moreover, until a settlement agreement is reached or the judgment is satisfied in full, the plaintiff could go to court to enforce the judgment. As a result, the litigation is still pending and closed session settlement discussions are still proper under the Brown Act.”
3.) The third question isn’t a question so much as a rumor, the rumor being that MMSA was forced to refinance its loan (the loan taken out by Starwood Capital to finance the purchase of the company in 2005) at a significantly higher interest rate, thus promising a further drain on operating capital and the ability of the company to reinvest in itself in the near term. Is this true?
MMSA CEO Rusty Gregory told The Sheet this week that the interest rate for the refi loan is “a full percentage point less with a five-year term.”
And now, from Geisel’s desk …
What is this, Wisconsin?
Remember the recent flap in Wisconsin and the heat that Republican Governor Scott Walker took for revamping public sector collective bargaining in that state? Well, Wisconsin, it turns out, wasn’t the only state considering such options. Many other states in budget crisis mode adopted similar measures, and now it appears California’s turn could come up soon.
Under potential ballot initiatives that have been filed with the state’s Attorney General’s Office, all public sector workers in the state of California would no longer have collective bargaining rights. Think tank group California Center for Public Policy is behind a three-part initiative effort that is focused on reducing government workers’ compensation.
Initiative #1 would prohibit all public-sector labor unions from being recognized and collective bargaining would be blocked. Under Initiative #2, a higher tax rate would be imposed on anyone drawing pension payments from CalPERS or CalSTRS. And Initiative #3 seeks to increase the retirement age of public safety workers to 58, and other workers’ threshold to 65. (Currently state workers can retire at ages 50 to 55, depending on terms of employment.) If Secretary of State Debra Bowen approves the potential initiatives, each one will require at least $1 million to successfully gather the necessary signatures to make the November ballot.
The initiatives operate on the theory that raising taxes and eliminating services can simply be avoided if government compensation packages are streamlined. Says CCPP’s Lanny Ebenstein, “Government does not exist to provide compensation and pensions for government workers. Government exists to provide good public services at a reasonable cost.” As of press time, there was no reaction from unions or Governor Jerry Brown’s office, but some form of resistance to the initiatives is expected.
Unions have, however, been part of benefit package reform that has made its way into San Francisco County, one of the state’s most liberal regions. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to place a charter amendment on the November ballot to overhaul city retirement benefits. “I believe this is absolutely, 100 percent, unequivocally the right step for the city,” commented Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who drafted the measure with Mayor Ed Lee (D) and public employee unions.
According to its website description, California Center for Public Policy is a “nonprofit organization dedicated to non-partisan public dialogue and research on California public policy, including public employee compensation, education, energy and economic issues.” –California County News, Digital Clipping Service.
And in regard to the Crowley cell tower hearing, much was made about private property rights intrusions. From where I sit, it seems that about four homes were allowed to decide the future of a community of 1,000. And in public comment, two of those homes doubled up on speaking, with both husband and wife going to the podium. One of the homeowners railed against the towers’ perceived impact on property values. That home has been on the market for 18 months, leading one to speculate as to whether the decline in the housing market has had more of an effect on its worth than any two faux tree cell towers. And another home was in escrow during the Planning Commission meeting in April, and allowed to stay in escrow afterward, with full knowledge that an appeal could be filed and there might indeed be cell towers as a result.
And what of Tommy Czeschin’s property rights? He owns a commercial piece of real estate. Yes, it’s surrounded by residential property, and he stood to make money on it. But isn’t that his right as a private property owner? Were those rights properly considered, along with those of the NIMBYs living just up Juniper Drive?
Lunch, meanwhile, sides more with Supervisor Tim Hansen’s way of thinking on this one. As Hansen said, “If one person’s property rights are violated, I can’t support it.”
Inyo on hold
Inyo County will have to wait a little longer to challenge the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) groundwater-pumping plan for the Owens Valley. The Inyo-LA Tech group met on July 15 to discuss the county’s concern that the current pumping plan may have a negative environmental impact on two areas between Independence and Lone Pine.
According to Inyo County Water Department Director Bob Harrington, the meeting did not go well. When the Inyo-LA Tech Group got to the county’s request for resolution concerning the pumping plan, the DWP suddenly noticed that the county’s attorney was present in the audience. The attorney in question wasn’t there to represent Inyo, but was observing the proceedings as a member of the public. Nevertheless, DWP pointed out that it didn’t have any legal representation present, and asked that the county’s attorney remove himself.
“We didn’t want to set a precedent of throwing a person out of a public meeting,” Harrington said. So the county chose to recess the meeting and continue the discussion at a later date.
Inyo County had already provided its request in the form of a legal document to the LADWP before Friday’s Tech meeting was ever scheduled. “They certainly knew what was going on,” said Harrington, “so they could have had an attorney present if they thought they needed one.”
But if past dealings with the LADWP are any indication, Friday’s first non-resolution may not be the last. “These kinds of things take a lot of time and patience,” Harrington concluded.