Things that just occurred to me, in no particular order

Posts tagged ‘Lewiston’

Pssst: Everyone loves a secret!

One of my journalism professors, the venerable Sam Archibald, taught that there was never a reason for government to slip behind closed doors.

Nothing in government, he said, deserved secrecy. Even discussions about whether or not to expel a student, a delicate matter usually made sacrosanct by even the most liberal of freedom of information rules, could be done in full view and light of public scrutiny.

Governments don’t agree. It’s not that they are doing anything particularly sneaky, mind you. It’s just that government is much more efficient without all that oversight and a misunderstanding public poking their fingers in everything.

If they could, he said, governments would never open their doors to the public — not for the simplest, most mundane, basic discussion. It’s not easy getting them to open up, he said, and he quoted the Bible: Acts 9: 5-6: “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”

I’m thinking about those lessons a lot, especially with this latest dust-up with the Lewiston City Council. I think this situation would have driven him into fits, spins and incredulous, profanity filled rants.

Basically, Maine’s rules for open meetings favor government. There’s a list of reasons they can shut the doors; labor negotiations, land trades and the especially broad “consultations with their attorney”.

This current council wasn’t able to agree on anything until Tuesday night. They started out on a bad foot, way back in 2007, meeting secretly in compliance with the law but flouting common sense and public duty. They’ve progressed from name calling to secret e-mail meetings to other kinds of secret huddles. They’ve been unable to agree with each other on much of anything.

They had one last split, contentious vote Tuesday night before they went into executive session — they couldn’t even agree about that. But they came out, each spouting the same two-word party line — no comment — and they’ve held that silence ever since. Attorney- client privilege, they say. The law is on their side.

But the law doesn’t mention hurt feelings, and I think that’s what the current controversy  comes down to.

In the end, they’re just hurting themselves.  Sam Archibald’s basic point was that secrets are really only juicy and fun as long as they’re secret. As soon as the facts come out, as soon as everyone says “Ahh. that’s what all that nonsense was about,” people move on.

They’re supposed to release a written statement this afternoon, but I don’t think the issue is finished. As long as they try to hold on to their secrets like a dog in the manger, people will continue talking about it. It’s just human  nature.

They pretty much guarantee that I’ll be writing about this for some time to come.

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Newsweek & Lewiston redux

I’ve been real curious to get this week’s Newsweek, to see what kind of reaction they got from their “The Refugees that Saved Lewiston” article in the Jan. 26 edition.
The article inspired hundreds of comments on their Web site from Mainers who informed them they’d kind of missed the boat. I figured the story probably inspired a letter or two. Guess I was wrong.
The Feb. 9 edition, on newstands and in mailboxes now, didn’t carry a single critical letter, just two praising the magazine’s other stories and a third, letterboxed, that praised our new president and his ability to close cultural divides.
Guess I can’t blame them. They probably get hundreds of letters and it’s easy to dismiss the critical ones as cranky fools. Besides, it’s easier to dismiss a little place like Lewiston.

Newsweek and Lewiston

It’s pretty certain that no matter what gets written or said about Lewiston nationally, it’s not going to please the locals. The folks here tend to be pretty tough to please.

The latest round of displeasure stems from Newsweek writer Jesse Ellison’s article in the Jan. 26 edition raised a lot of eyebrows. Unlike past stories – that either made the city look like a bunch of racist twits or a gang of pathetic losers – this one tried to paint the community in a pretty positive light. The gist of the story is that Lewiston was a dying town that had given up hope, until a group of secondary migrants came to town and saved it. Now, everything is wonderful.

But everyone I spoke to last week objected to the story. The folks that posted to Newsweek’s page had one point of view; Lewiston’s Somalis were a drain and not a part of the community, they said. There is an element in Lewiston that thinks that. They are not the majority, but they are numerous.

Most people objected to the basic premise. Lewiston was not a dying mill town when the Somalis showed up. It had already started to come around by 2001. The Somalis were a part of that and most folks welcomed them but they’re not the totality of what happened.

Frankly, I don’t think most believe anything really positive has happened in Lewiston-Auburn before or after the Somalis arrived. We are not a example of things working out right. Things are as messed up now as they ever were. That’s not the fault of the Somalis, either. But they are a part of the community, for better or worse.

From my point of view, I understand how the story happened. The writer tried to write a nice piece on the changes that have come to a small community after a group of refugees settled here. From Newsweek’s point of view, it was a small story – more of an afterthought, really – and there was not time or space to go into the long, confusing and frustrating history around it.

One other thing stands out, however. The Newsweek writer didn’t quote a single Somali in the piece. Whether she interviewed any, I don’t know. Our Somali neighbors are shy around news people. That includes our local reporters but especially extends to those from national magazines. And frankly, can you blame them?

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