The News & Record’s editorial Stacking the Deck chastises the Greensboro city council for imperiling the public trust with the city’s mishandling of the downtown parking deck projects. Unfortunately, the editorial elides the specific bad acts that are causing a loss of public trust and, instead, blames city council only for failing to manage public skepticism. It’s a gutless diversion that attempts to right the ship without rocking the boat.
Does the N&R fault council members for nearly every last one of them taking very large campaign contributions from the business people involved in the parking decks (and their family members) mere weeks prior to voting to approve tens of millions in public funds for the decks? Nope. That would start a conversation about local cronyism in which the N&R has never shown an interest.
Does the N&R object to a council person voting on providing public money for one of the decks when his law firm partner is a principal investor in a hotel for which a deck is to be built? Nope. That would erode the narrative the N&R perpetuates that this council person has a bright political future.
Does the N&R care about advertisements for city council candidates being displayed on an electronic billboard owned by a businessman who is directly benefiting from millions in parking decks funds or that those advertisements went unreported on campaign finance forms as is required by law? Nope. That would acknowledge facts that have escaped the N&R’s newsroom’s attention.
Does the N&R fault the city manager for writing in a N&R guest editorial that the city conducted a parking analysis in 2016 that he claimed showed a need for additional parking downtown, then failing to provide that analysis to the public even though citizens have been asking for well over two months to see it? Nope. That would raise the question: did the N&R allow the wool to be pulled over its readers’ eyes by an official misrepresentation?
Instead of acknowledging these specific venal actions as responsible for the loss of public trust, the N&R admonishes city council that it has “forgotten where you are.” It asks: doesn’t council remember “how very little it takes to stoke suspicions of back-room deals and conspiracies in this town?”
With that nimble move, the N&R swerves to avoid confronting unscrupulous behavior and reassigns the problem to a public it insinuates is overreacting to “very little.”
Whether the N&R sees it or not, the real issue goes beyond unwarranted secrecy; it is about what secrecy has attempted to conceal.
The News & Record warns city council that “Taxpayers will remember this no-tell hotel when the next project comes along. And they won’t believe a single word you say to them.”
I have news for the N&R: this project is the next project — and it’s not just city council who has depleted its credibility. If the N&R really cares about maintaining the public trust in the city’s institutions, it will stop glossing over unpleasant realities, find its backbone and start doing what real newspapers do: hold those who violate the public trust accountable. If it does not, it will only further cement its reputation as one among the cronies.