Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Neighbor

Juanita Keenan of Prunedale wrote this week to note that The Herald has spent much effort covering the treasurer-tax collector campaign, particularly regarding candidate Ron Holly's unfortunate statement that he's a lawyer. The Herald published a story about the controversy last week, I wrote a column about the situation on Saturday and The Herald endorsed Mary Zeeb on Wednesday.

Keenan also believes that "something is fishy" because I happen to live near Lou Solton, the incumbent treasurer-tax collector who is not seeking reelection. She believes I should have excused myself from the editorial review board when we did the treasurer-tax collector endorsement.

"I don't know Holly from Zeeb, but I would like to before I vote!" Keenan wrote. "Apparently, your being a good neighbor to Solton outweighs your responsibility to your employer and to the readers of your paper. You owe it to both to find out the whole story and let us make up your own mind."

The whole story in a nutshell: Holly's official campaign statement declares he's a lawyer. He is not a lawyer.

If a newspaper editor thinks that a story about a candidate who issues misstatements on his election papers is not a legitimate news story and an issue deserving of comment, the editor should be sacked.

Solton is indeed my neighbor. Since we've all got to live somewhere, sometimes we end up with neighbors who happen to be somebody. Should the guy who runs KSBW have excused himself because he's the sheriff's neighbor before airing his furious defense of the sheriff against a story The Herald published that was critical of the sheriff several weeks ago? I don't think so. And I won't be surprised when KSBW endorses the incumbent sheriff.

Fun side note about being the tax collector's neighbor: Since I'm the treasurer of the small water cooperative in our neighborhood, I get to demand payment from him. Not-so-fun side note: I wasn't real enthusiastic about the proposed (and, thankfully, now dead) water project in North County that Solton was promoting to his neighbors.

So, yeah, Solton and I are friendly neighbors. We talk about things. Usually, when he talks about government finance, municipal bonds and other subjects unfit for neighborhood conversation, my eyes glaze over and I steer the conversation to our shared gopher problem. And when I talk about the scary twists and turns of the newspaper business, his eyes glaze over and he steers the conversation to pickup trucks. (We live in Prunedale, if you haven't guessed by now.)

I've got other neighbors, too, incidentally, with whom I never talk business. In fact, I'm reasonably certain that my nearest neighbor has no idea that I work for a newspaper. It never comes up. Why should it? Good neighbors are neighbors who don't yammer on about the crap that happens at work.

Anyway, getting back to Holly and conspiracy theories . . . Keenan is correct that we've run more stories about the treasurer/tax collector race than is typically seen for an "office most people don't care about," as characterized by Keenan.

Because it's inconvenient to her conspiracy, Keenan doesn't mention that The Californian — not The Herald — broke the story about Holly's lawyer problem. The Californian beat us to the story. I hate to admit it, but The Californian scooped us. Dammit! I'm embarrassed about it. I'm pissed about it. I never want The Californian to scoop us. But they beat us with that story and we had to chase it.

As it happened, our editorial review board interview with the treasurer candidates was scheduled the very morning The Californian ran its story. We naturally asked Holly about the lawyer issue. His inability to explain himself plausibly left us dumbfounded.

Example: "Did you ever attend law school?" our opinion page editor asked. "Yes ... well, no," was the answer.

Another example: Holly took full responsibility for the foul-up, but then wondered aloud, accusingly, how Zeeb managed to find out he wasn't really a lawyer.

It went on and on like that.

Dumbfounded is not the correct word for it. Outraged is. In fact, the vehemence of the outrage among the rest of the editorial review board in regards to Holly was unanimous and unprecedented.

The Herald traditionally streams our editorial review interviews with candidates online, and we post the interviews on our online opinion page. When planning for this particular interview several weeks ago, we figured that the treasurer-tax collector candidates would be an especially boring lot, so we didn't book Wave Street Studios. Boy, were we wrong, and now we're kicking ourselves that it wasn't recorded for the world to see.

In the end, we knew we couldn't support Holly. So we went with Zeeb, for reasons stated in our editorial. Personally, I think John McPherson is a perfectly reasonable alternative who would likely do a good job if he's elected. But the entire board settled on Zeeb.

For the record, I don't give a rip who Solton supports, except in the context that he doesn't support Holly despite what Holly was telling people. Just like I don't really care if Solton supports some North County water deal that I don't want to pay for.

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