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.