Op Ed
April 13, 2007

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Oh, what a tangled web we weave…
by Ken Evans

Weblogs and online news have added both entertainment and accessibility to the public forum. However, we humbly submit that factual information and ethics still matter, even in the blogosphere. Tom Bogdon’s article in eKC online titled “Jackson County de-emphasizes environmental programs to bolster communications office” http://www.kcactive.com/news/newsfeat/newsfeat2007_04_06.htm may be entertaining, but as news it isn’t worth the paper that it isn’t printed on.

This is likely an assignment the reporter should not have accepted. Readers deserve to know that Mr. Bogdon cannot be expected to be objective about the new administration of Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders because Bogdon had a high profile role in the August 2006 campaign of Dr. Charlie Wheeler for Jackson County Executive. Even Bogdon himself called this race “hotly contested.” Dr. Wheeler lost the primary to Mike Sanders 65% to 29%. Now Sanders and his new administration are the targets of Bogdon’s article. Coincidence? You decide.

As a citizen, Mr. Bogdon is certainly free to support any candidate of he chooses. But as a reporter — even a blog/online reporter — ethics should require him to reveal any personal agenda, conflict of interest, or even the appearance of a conflict to his readers — anything that would have the potential to compromise objectivity. Mr. Bogdon made no such revelation to readers of this article, nor, we assume, to eKC online.

Readers should also note that Bogdon’s article is not labeled “Commentary” or “Analysis” as eKC online and other publications often do. It is presented as “News.” News is built upon objective facts — who, what, when, where, why, how and how much — not half-truths and fabrications as contained in his article.

To the information itself; the article’s main points and greatest misrepresentations begin at the very headline: “Jackson County de-emphasizes environmental programs to bolster communications office.” In fact, all of Jackson County’s Environmental Programs continue, and their reorganization has no relationship whatsoever to the Office of Communications.

Bogdon introduces what can only be described as a “conspiracy theory” with these words: “As county environmental programs supposedly came under the budgetary knife, a county Communications Office was created.” Amazingly, he offers no other connection between the two.

Here are the FACTS about the Office of Communications:

  • It was created by a reorganization of existing resources.
  • Marketing and communication staffers who were already working in separate departments were reorganized into a single office.
  • Most had already worked together (some for more than a decade) on a project basis, and had shown positive results. For example:
  • Jackson County won the right to host the National Association of Counties Annual Conference in 2008.
  • The Parks Marketing Campaign increased revenue by over a half million dollars, resulted in record crowds at special events, and drove over a million visitors to the county website in 2006 alone.

We find it particularly interesting that Bogdon chose to list the names, titles, dates of service, and even the salaries of staff in the Office of Communications and others — and yet somehow “forget” to detail the salaries of Chris Bussen ($65,700.00) and Larry Falkin ($85,000)? Strange omissions if one is trying to be fair and in fact, highlight the woes of these gentlemen. Other omissions along similar lines include Bogdon stating, “Neither Falkin nor Bussen were political appointees and both have merit system protection.” In the interest of fairness, it should be pointed out that Falkin was a handpicked political hire of Katheryn Shields (just 6 months before she was to leave office) in addition, Bussen’s first job at Jackson County was as Katheryn Shields’ personal assistant.

Here are the FACTS about Jackson County’s Environmental Programs.

Jackson County has NOT de-emphasized its environmental programs. As Chief, Intergovernmental Operations and Communications Calvin Williford told Bogdon: “No environmental program has been cut in Jackson County. We have made staff reductions but no program or service has been cut. Those duties have been reassigned to other departments… All those functions were going on for years without layers of managers. What we did was integrate them back into the departments.”

These are important facts; apparently Bogdon decided they didn’t fit his agenda. Perhaps that’s why he dedicated the next 400+ words of the article (more than eight times the space allowed Williford) to comments from disgruntled former employee Chris Bussen. Here it needs to be pointed out that Bogdon may have even done Bussen a disservice. When asked directly by Bogdon about the job performances of Bussen and Falkin; Williford responded by saying that he wouldn’t comment on the job performance of any employee; that would be a personnel matter. Further, he added that about 45 positions were eliminated due to budgetary issues affecting every department of county government. From the response given by Bussen in Bogdon’s article it would appear that Bogdon baited Bussen by saying he was relieved of duty for personnel reasons. That, in fact, was not the case and was not what Williford had said.

Further, some of the quotes attributed to Bussen seem especially curious. For example: “Jackson County’s environmental programs are dead.” In fact, not only has the new administration continued the environmental programs, it has now expanded them by offering recycling in Jackson County Parks. If Jackson County had in fact “de-emphasized” these programs they would not be expanding.

Another issue that Bogdon raised was Jackson County’s relationship with Abitibi Recycling. Abitibi does not currently have a contract with Jackson County although Donna Utter herself has been in talks with members of the Jackson County Parks & Recreation staff for several weeks, with another meeting scheduled this week (Thursday April 12, 2007). The “Beat the Chiefs” Recycling Program will take place this fall with no major changes expected. Another item that has been discussed with Abitibi is the print and media work that the newly organized Jackson County Communications Department is doing on behalf of Abitibi and other vendors for the upcoming 10th Annual MORA (Missouri Recycling Association) Conference to be held at the Clarion Hotel Sports Complex 5 – 6 June 2007.

The bottom line is this: “Reorganizing” and “de-emphasizing” are two very different things. Not only do these reorganized programs continue, they continue at significant savings to taxpayers. Ironically, Mr. Bussen himself identified the low end of these savings in his own words. He said: “the fact is a half million dollars is a half million dollars.” Here, here.

Even Mr. Bogdon has to admit that 500 Grand is a lot of green!

Ken Evans is a communications coordinator for Jackson County.

Editor’s Note: In an April 11 email response to the Jackson County Office of Communications and to clarify for our readers, I noted that prior to the publications of Tom Bogdon’s piece, posted 4/6/07, I was aware of his past, unpaid association with the Charles Wheeler campaign for county executive. I discussed such an association with Bogdon and felt confident he understood his ethical responsibilities as a journalist. Having worked with Bogdon on and off for nearly 25 years as an editor, I trust his journalistic ethics. Also, I labeled the article as a “news” item and noted to the Jackson County Office of Communications that background sources not mentioned in the article were contacted. — Bruce Rodgers, publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.


              
              
                 

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