Friday, December 09, 2005

The council member's Rumpke bid lie: It is an ethical lapse, and it does matter.

Considering that Monday’s city council meeting was deemed so unimportant that the Courier-Journal didn’t even bother sending a reporter to cover it, numerous nuggets of community-wide relevance have emerged in the meeting’s aftermath, and there has been ample debate in the local blogosphere this week -- much of it uncharacteristically even-tempered.

Arguably the most significant development has been given short shrift, relatively speaking, lost beneath the fallout from CM Steve Price’s perpetually dopey hostility toward worthwhile economic development and CM Dan Coffey’s ever more obvious physical and thematic resemblance to Joe McCarthy.

Namely, which city council member (or members) openly lied to blogger Laura Oates, implying the possession of non-existent insider information about Rumpke’s sanitation bid?

Here’s what we know about this sordid tale (for a more exact chronology, see Say it ain't so, (Dan, Bill, Steve, Larry) ... you've given Trog Sham(an) a pain in the Rumpke, previously on NAC).

A full two days prior to the opening of sealed sanitation bids by the Board of Public Works and Safety, Laura Oates reported at her Speak Out Loud NA blog that “the contract for privatizing sanitation services has been awarded to Rumpke,” using as her primary source the legal notices in the New Albany Tribune.

When challenged, Oates modified her stance the following day, writing: “I must make a correction regarding information that I posted here about Rumpke and the Sanitation privatization contract. This info was actually disseminated verbally by Council members.”

She has not chosen to clarify this statement to indicate whether the information passed directly to her from the "Council members," or whether it passed through the copperative conduit of a spouse.

As Volunteer Hoosier’s Randy Smith proceeded to point out, her amended revelation – far from making the issue disappear – effectively transformed the initial assertion from an innocent misreading of the classifieds on the part of a citizen into a case of potentially felonious behavior on the part of a councilman or councilmen, whose leak might well be construed as an attempt to interfere with the bidding process.

And that’s serious, indeed.

As it turned out, the Rumpke bid was not submitted until minutes before the deadline, so Oates’s source quite obviously lied to her, but the fact that the insider leak was a blatant falsehood does not lessen its gravity, or its intended effect when uttered in such a context.

During Monday night’s council meeting, Citizen Smith aimed to devote his five minutes of public speaking time to exploring what was at stake pertaining to the integrity of the council, and intended to ask a simple “yes or no” question of council members as to the perpetrator of the sanitation bid misinformation, but his efforts were disallowed by the council president (and probably correctly, given protocol).

Twenty-five minutes later, when it was Mayor James Garner’s turn to speak, CM Bev Crump pointedly asked him what he knew about the Rumpke disinformation, and he replied that he “knew nothing about it” until being told it was somewhere on a blog.

Somewhat oddly, the previously stoic CM Larry Kochert chose this precise moment to leap feet-first into the discussion, noting for the record that all of New Albany should know that he had been so concerned about the Rumpke blog rumor that he took the unprecedented step of calling City Clerk Marcey Wisman on Monday, a day before the sanitation bids were opened, for clarification and to be reassured of the bid’s sanctity.

Odd, given that CM Kochert wasn't, and isn't, being accused, and that in the past, he has given the impression that he remains mostly unaware of Wisman's professional existence.

Some council members looked surprised during CM Kochert's comments, while others issued immediate, albeit mumbled, statements of disinterest in the topic of council integrity; CM Price lamented that “rumors are rampant” on blogs, while CM Coffey reminded listeners yet again that he hadn’t read a blog for months, although he thankfully did not choose the occasion to denounce reading and the insidious book learning that derives from it, as he has during past digressions.

Does the story end there?

NA Confidential believes that while discussion of the potentially felonious Rumpke bid lie may have dissipated on the blogs, especially on SOLNA, where it’s a potato far too hot to handle for a proprietor who genuinely believes she is protecting a “source” by not divulging the truth about the lie’s origin, the topic and its implications remain near the top of the charts among those who are closest to it, i.e., the CM or CMs who originally told Oates something that wasn’t true, and may have done so for ignoble reasons.

Make no mistake: NA Confidential believes that Oates is the victim in this case. She was manipulated, and she, her readers and the public at large are owed an explanation.

The easiest way for this issue to be put to rest would be for the responsible CM or CMs to step forward and acknowledge an error in judgment; as an insider points out, there is no shortage of politicians here or anywhere who cherish opportunities to stroke gullible constituents (and gain competitive advantage) by portraying themselves as all-knowing.

Just admit that it was a mistake ... a silly kid mistake ... and move on.

Barring such an unlikely confession, we feel that those members of the current city council who truly care for the body’s future ethical reliability should choose the next council meeting to offer a motion unequivocally condemning the Rumpke insider deception, recognizing the potential harm of such harmful acts, and reaffirming that it and similar lapses of judgment are not in keeping with the council’s job description.

Our local reporters? Unfortunately, they completely missed the story … but we don’t intend to let this one die.


ceece said...

blech. Courier Journal lets us down...AGAIN.

I suppose all the reporters were busy buying milk, bread and ice, for our impending snow storm!

Anonymous said...

I certainly wouldn't hold my breath that any of this will happen. As of right now, unless Laura points a finger in one direction, there would be no reason for any of the CM's to admit or apologize for anything. They would have nothing to gain by doing so.

Again, integrity is the issue or lack thereof.

ceece said...

I emailed Mark Provano, editor for the Indiana section, and asked why there was no coverage of the meeting as well as the general lack of coverage in Indiana. Here was his response. Even though I am not pleased with their actions, it was nice to get a prompt response.

Thanks for your note. Even though it's critical, it's always good to know that readers notice what we do. I looked at the agenda for the city council meeting, and there didn't seem to me to be any really big items there (which is not to say that we couldn't have written a story about it). With the reporter who covers New Albany and Floyd County on vacation, I just didn't have anyone available to go to the meeting. My guess is that we cover 90 percent of the council meetings in a given year. Occasionally we skip one if there are higher coverage priorities. This was such a situation. If we missed something important, we will try to catch up to it, one way or another, when the beat reporter, Ben Hershberg, returns Monday. Thanks again. Mark Provano.

Tim Deatrick said...

like I said, i think it's time for the city council to enact an ethics policy and take serious sanctions against any member of members who transgress it, perhaps I will bring a copy of the sunnyvale california policy to the next council meeting.

There have been implications earlier this year that CM Schmidt may have provided what may have been considered confidential information to certain individuals in this community.

The Indiana Legislature has an ethics policy, why not the NA city council?