In his editorial in the January 30th issue of the Pontiac Journal, Publisher Emeritus Fred Ryan places the residents of the Municipality of Pontiac (MoP) in with some pretty degrading company. In his column, tax payers got lumped into an ugly pile along with antisemites, Islamophobics, xenophobes, misogynists and anonymous Internet “trolls” that make up the “witches brew” of social media.
In his first five paragraphs, Mr. Ryan firmly lays the blame for the problems plaguing the MoP solely at the feet of social media. He then proceeds to draw a parallel between some of the bigoted anti-Muslim trope being spilled on Facebook and the residents in our municipality who are concerned with high taxes, an important arterial road that remains closed and unrepaired for over a year, and the lack of progress on vital projects which could mean the loss of substantial grant money and subsidies; to name just a few of the accumulating concerns residents have. I fail to see the connection between that and what is going on in some of the murkier corners of the Internet.
A few pages before, residents of Pontiac got pretty much the same treatment in an article penned by the paper’s Director General, Lynne Lavery, dealing with the budget meeting public notice fiasco that is bristling with inaccuracies. In Ryan’s piece, he laments the abusive nature of some social media platforms and the aggressive discourse that they engender. It may come as a surprise that I am one of the most vocal and public critics of Facebook, and I have always been opposed to the Municipality of Pontiac using Facebook as a means of publishing its information on the Internet.
Mr. Ryan asks the question why people don’t turn to traditional media to address those issues instead of engaging in mudlarking on social media. He wonders if it’s “because traditional media is slower? Because it requires good grammar and spelling? Or because it means being reviewed by a copy-editor for correct writing and general decency?”
So how does Lynne Lavery’s article stand up to that criteria? In fact, Mr. Ryan may want to add fact-checking to that list to avoid having his publication print flatly incorrect and misleading information which arrives at invalid conclusions. Twice!
In her column Municipality of Pontiac: allegations, accusations and few answers, the reader is left struggling to comprehend the reason for the redundant title. Among other minor sloppiness, Ms. Lavery refers to M. Kuhn’s new position at Transcollins as Director of Development, when in fact his new position is as the somewhat less esteemed Development Agent. And while there were comments on various Facebook pages by some who believed he had been fired, the question which the Journal has thus far roundly ignored which is also being asked by residents in the MoP was why the municipality would have to negotiate with someone who had quit their job?
The former DG may have resigned, but no resolution has ever been brought to council tendering his resignation. The word ‘resignation’ does not appear in the minutes of either of the meetings cited in Lavery’s article. Normally that would have proceeded the launching of any negotiations if they were required. The Municipality has been accepting a slew of resignations in past 6 months of other high-level administrative staff who’ve joined a growing parachute club, and in each instance a resolution was brought before council to accept those resignations. Except that is, in this one case.
Then there’s the knavish and overused decoy argument both Ryan and Lavery incessantly keep resorting to, that somehow all of the vexation in the MoP is confined to the losing side of the last election. “The motivation for these assaults is difficult to understand,” writes Ryan. “Yes, these folks lost the municipal election to a new group (of fellow-citizens), but that rarely causes such rancour and sheer dumbness elsewhere.”
Again, some good old-fashioned beat reporting would have lead the Journal to many voters who had supported the current mayor in the last election and who are equally as upset. In reality, the present dissatisfaction with the Mayor’s and Council’s performance is far from being as one-sided as Ryan and Lavery keep relentlessly suggesting that it is.
The notion that the only people who are criticizing Council are people who dislike the Mayor lacks credibility coming from people who defend the mayor only because they do.
All of this would have been bad enough, but for the heaping of journalistic garbage by the Pontiac Journal heaved into the dumpster fire ignited by the Mayor’s bumptious statement regarding the publication of public notices.
Had Mr. Ryan or Ms. Lavery ever bothered to attend any council meetings over the course of the last eight years, they would have been aware of the considerable pressure residents had been putting on the municipality to provide information to citizens using the Internet going all the way back to 2012. The MoP spent $25k around that time to modernize and expand its website, and beginning in 2013 it also started using Facebook to publish all of its public notices on social media. So it came as quite a shock to tax payers in the municipality when Mayor Labadie declared that the MoP’s website had become a “courtesy.” Because for seven years, the Municipality of Pontiac has been publishing its public notices on its website and Facebook page in conformity with the time frames prescribed by the Municipal Code.
Except on one particular occasion. And since that time residents in Pontiac have been treated to a goat rodeo of legal gymnastics and philosophical subjectivism in the service of defending an absurdity.
In Lavery’s January 30th article she writes, “Mayor Labadie has told the Journal that By-law 16-05-2778, with requirements for posting public notices, was created in 2016 by the previous council. The Journal found the by-law ambiguous; it states that 'public notices are now displayed virtually and occasionally on our website …', and 'Public notices will now be posted physically only at the following locations …', listing where in fact the budget notices had been posted." (Emphasis mine)
There is no such thing as By-law 16-05-2778. The Municipality of Pontiac does not have any by-law governing its public notices. What it has is a resolution, and both Ms. Lavery and Mayor Labadie consistently demonstrate that neither one of them knows the difference between a resolution and a by-law. A resolution is a directive from Council that applies to the Municipality’s administration. A resolution establishes how something is required to be carried out. It is a set of instructions from Council to the Administration that is as legally binding as a by-law. Until it is changed or abrogated, it is the rules that are in effect, and the Municipality has to respect them.
Furthermore, resolution 16-05-2778 does not state that “public notices are now displayed virtually and occasionally on our website …” and Lynne Lavery needs to explain to the public where she got this very erroneous and misleading wording. And that is because it is not possible that she got that from the municipality’s website, or from the Municipality itself. The word ‘occasionally’ has never been used in that resolution and its insertion is a complete fabrication. What the resolution does in fact state, unambiguously, is:
The preamble of the resolution establishes, that from that day forward, “public notices are now being posted in a … timely fashion on our Internet Site and Facebook page.” Period. And for seven years that is exactly how it has been done, including the first 12 months of Mme. Labadie’s tenure as Mayor. And now the Mayor is trying to argue that something is preventing them from respecting the MoP’s own resolution because of some tortured interpretation of the municipal code.
The headline in Lavery’s follow-up article on January 13th reads “Internet notices require updated by-law” but what Lavery and the Mayor don’t seem to understand is that there is no by-law to update. The Municipality needs to create one. But in the meantime, it must adhere to resolution 16-05-2778.
So from misidentifying the former director general’s new position at Transcollins, to wrongly citing article 433.1 as “Section 345.1” and including a fabrication in a quote of the wording of a resolution Ms. Lavery wrongly calls a by-law, I have to wonder if this is what Fred Ryan was referring to in his editorial as a “refereed media with journalists who do not take sides and who know how to ask helpful questions and seek out useful information. Shouldn’t we use public, double-checked media for the serious subjects?” and “observing standards of clarity, honesty, and responsibility”?
If Mr. Ryan is looking for reasons why the public trust in the “traditional media” is being supplanted by cesspools like Facebook, then he needs look no further than to his own publication.
All of this discussion of Bill 122 and Article 433.1 is a smokescreen which sheepishly avoids the fact that the MoP failed to follow its own rules. It isn’t any more complicated than that. But by attacking readers of the Pontiac Journal Mr. Ryan has laid bare the true legacy of Bill 122 that local newspapers are accountable only to their advertisers — which thanks to Bill 122 includes municipalities now — and not the public. The Journal’s coverage of this issue has been one-sided, inflammatory, offensive and dishonest.
Mr. Ryan owes an apology to the business owners, residents, community volunteers and professionals – who publicly and in their own names, not as anonymous “trolls” on the Internet, raise concerns and ask questions at council meetings – for lumping them in with such abhorrent company. I see nothing in Mr. Ryan's editorial that's any different than what he's accusing others of doing.
"Those of us on the sidelines, driving through, don’t help things if we ourselves click into this toxic mix," he writes, "Mud sticks to everyone using it." Mr. Ryan might want to check his own boots.
As Mr. Ryan himself writes, “a vigorous but respectful and inquiring attitude is the key for a community to move forward, to make improvements, and to correct mistakes or injustices. Traditional media is far from supporting the status quo!”
But is any of that aided when a local newspaper inserts itself into a dispute with one-sided, incorrect information?
And a tinge of yellow?