About That Problematic Op-Ed About the City of Helena in the IR Today

This morning, the Independent Record ran a very strange op-ed piece by retired city directors Amy Teegarden and Gery Carpenter that claimed the City of Helena has abandoned transparency, respect, and even the law.

It’s a strange piece primarily because of its total absence of evidence. Despite their sweeping claims, Teegarden and Carpenter provide no evidence, asserting that for the protection of staff, details will not be disclosed in this format.”

That’s specious defense for the piece, which asserts that the “handpicked city manager” and the City Commission are ignoring violating the law. Echoing the language of right-wing groups angry about social progress, Teegarden and Carpenter claim that “priority is given to the rhetoric of entitled special interest groups and disgruntled individuals without any regard to the greater community benefit and other legitimate user groups,” without ever defining what constitutes one of these “entitled special interest groups” or “legitimate user groups.”

Despite both directors being retired, they assert that “Employee morale is at an all-time low” without providing even any reason to believe they’d be in a position to know.

In fact, despite claiming that there is a “total disregard for city code and legal processes,” Teegarden and Carpenter do not provide a single example backing their claims.

The piece feels like a political hit piece, and without substantiation, not a piece that improves public understanding or discourse.

There’s a second level of concern, though: the role of the newspaper itself.

Let’s assume for a moment that everything (or even a fraction thereof) Teegarden and Carpenter claim is true. Doesn’t that represent a tremendous failure in the reporting from the city’s sole newspaper? Teegarden and Carpenter assert that the City of Helena is breaking the law, tolerating and even engaging in harassment and discrimination, and failing to put out competitive bids for city projects, but I haven’t read local reporting about any of those claims.

Has the IR done any deep dives into city contracts? Settlement claims? Lawsuits? Not that this subscriber has seen.

It seems the order here has been reversed: shouldn’t the IR print (or even write) an op-ed piece after reporting has been done? After claims have been vetted? After independent journalist establishes the veracity of the claims Teegarden and Carpenter have brought forth?

The op-ed page should be a space for lively debate and community discussion, but it should still be space that demands evidence for claims. Blanket assertions that the City and its manager and breaking the law should demand a minimum level of substantiation and a minimum level of supporting reporting. Neither seems to have been demanded in this case.

Perhaps there is a great story about the City of Helena and its manager lurking under the surface, but this is assuredly not the way to uncover it.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Strange indeed! Aren’t those precisely the complaints against Amy Teegarden that led to her retirement? (I don’t know about Gary Carpenter). How ironic. How hypocritical! What falsehoods! I was astonished to read the letter. Problem is, the casual reader will probably believe it! I hope those more intimately knowledgeable about the situation will respond in the paper.

    When has the IR ever done “deep dives” into topic?

  • Nobody reads the newspaper anymore. Here in Gallatin County we have similar issues as the writers of that op-ed describes. Some have even made the paper, which shows how significant these issues must be – it takes a lot for the newspaper to notice anything meaningful. In one case it took a letter from emergency service providers to the County Administrator for the paper to pick up the story, even though the underlying issue has existed for years. A few days after the story ran I asked a variety of people if they had heard the news about the County emergency services problem – it was in the paper and on local tv news – and all I got were blank stares and ‘uhhh… what news?’. I explained that there were some significant issues with how the 911 call center was being run, and only one person, the cashier at the co-op, had any idea what I was talking about.
    The newspaper is crap, which is probably why nobody reads it anymore. Over the years there have been several stories on events that I was directly a part of. The newspaper reporter sat in the audience and witnessed the entire event. The stories that appeared in the paper were terrible. It was almost as if the reporter watched an entirely different series of events than what had happened. Sure, some basic aspects of the story were correct, but so many little things were wrong that the story painted a significantly different picture of what happened. I talked to the reporter after the story ran. I asked where he got his information and why he didn’t ask questions if he didn’t understand what was happening. He thought he ‘nailed it’ and that his reporting was accurate. I pointed out a fundamental, factual aspect of his story that was wrong. He told me ‘that’s not what they said after the event’, as if what anyone ‘said’ can change a black and white fact.
    It makes me wonder what critical aspects are being missed, misrepresented or are just plain wrong in the newspaper stories on issues I’m not as familiar with, given my experiences with the newspaper stories on issues I was a part of. I’ve thought about writing letters to the editor to perhaps shed some light on concerns and issues with how our local government is being run. I’ve thought about writing letters to the editor to perhaps shed light on concerns and issues with how the paper covers local news.
    I don’t bother because the newspaper is crap, which is probably why nobody reads it anymore.

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