Two months ago, I wrote about a flap we had with the new Wellfleet town administrator, Maria Broadbent. She had given one of our reporters a hard time about releasing a document that we thought should be public.
To clear the air, we asked for an off-the-record meeting with Broadbent, which showed up on her regular report to the select board. At a recent meeting, board member Helen Miranda Wilson asked her what that meeting with the newspaper was about.
“They had printed something that said that I refused to give them some information,” Broadbent replied, “which was actually incorrect.”
She went on to explain, “I just wanted a meeting with them so that we could discuss what their expectations were. We’ve been getting multiple requests daily for issues that really are, oftentimes, ex-parte conversations, where it would be a matter that’s deliberated by a board, in which case, members of the board shouldn’t be commenting outside of a meeting on issues that come before them for deliberation.”
Our meeting, she said, was to ensure that the newspaper “understood that we need to make sure that the communication lines are clear.”
None of the members of the board asked her what she meant by that — or about the “ex-parte conversations” gobbledy-gook in her answer. I’m still trying to decipher that part myself.
Our reporter was trying to learn about serious problems in the town accountant’s office, now revealed in a highly critical audit of town finances (see story, page 4). In other words, it had nothing to do with any board’s deliberations.
And what the town administrator actually said to me and to Senior Reporter K.C. Myers in that meeting was that she intended to implement a policy requiring her prior approval before we could speak with any town employee about anything.
At the select board meeting, Broadbent implied that the purpose of our calls was to set up a “gotcha” revelation. We don’t have time for that. We make multiple requests of town officials and staff not because we are trying to annoy them but because that is what we do when we need to follow up and verify facts learned from other sources. Reporters ask questions. That is their job. And public officials who are doing their jobs properly should, by and large, answer questions truthfully and without unneeded delay.
If you doubt that a healthy, independent local press is a necessary part of good government, look at the research showing that municipal bond ratings go down in places where newspapers have died. This, by the way, is Sunshine Week, says the New England Newspaper & Press Association. Let’s let the sunshine in.