Editorial: News That’s Fit to Print

We’re not here to pass judgement, just to present our readership with the news and useful information on a variety of topics.  When we are limited or restricted from getting that information, and thus unable to supply it to the community, the only people who suffer are the readers.

So when we’re told we can’t attend a public meeting, or that a press conference has been canceled, yes, it means that there’s less work for us.  One less story to write, one fewer notebook filled with meeting details and quotes.  But it also means we can’t get the full story to the thousands of people who read our paper.

Hence, it riles us up a bit when we get the word that another paper has been given exclusive access to what had been dubbed a “press conference” the day before.  Here’s what happened:

The Forum has been covering the city’s plan to put a juvenile detention facility on a residential block in Ozone Park.  The Administration for Children Services leased the property for its “Close to Home” program to house 18 teenaged offenders who live nearby, and locals are concerned about how this might affect the neighborhood. This week our shared Google calendars and our bulletin board were marked with reminders to attend a press conference, scheduled for Tuesday the 21st, announcing a class action lawsuit filed in Queens County Court by the South Ozone Park Civic Association West and three residents against the owner of the property, KAD of Queens LLC, and the group that would manage the detention facility, Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services.  The announcement was to be hosted by City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), but the day before, Wills’ office postponed the conference to an undetermined date.  Materials that would have ostensibly been provided at the conference, including a copy of the complaint itself, were then sent out via email, but soon after, The Forum learned that another paper had been given exclusive access to the councilman on this subject.  What information they got that we didn’t, or why these special arrangements were made, we have yet to learn and can’t even begin to fathom.  Aren’t we all on the same side here, in terms of serving the community’s best interests and getting the word out on issues that affect residents’ daily lives?

In February, Wills had The Forum and other papers thrown out of a public hearing to discuss the same issue.  We didn’t get it then, and we still don’t.

It’s true that we’ve covered Wills’, shall we say, indiscretions in the past.  The councilman was indicted last year for allegedly redirecting to his own pockets thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds which had been given in the name of a fake charity he was running.  He pled not guilty to those charges.  Then, earlier this year, came another indictment:  this time, it was alleged that Wills had filed false documents with the city Conflicts of Interest Board, failing to report financial involvements in 2011, 2012, and 2013 annual disclosures.

But we’re among many reputable papers who’ve printed some unpleasant tidbits on the councilman’s doings, as we are obligated by our readers and our profession to do.  We never even touched the fact covered by The New York Daily News that Wills’ meeting attendance record as councilman is the worst of the lot – he missed 27% of the committee hearings and Council sessions he was supposed to attend last year.

With Wills’ outside activities in question, you could normally say, “Don’t quit your day job, Councilman.”  But showing preferential treatment to one community newspaper over another, barring press from public gatherings, and skipping out on important meetings relevant to your constituents’ representation all beg confusion, if not outright challenge.  We promise to stick around, if we’re allowed, and see what happens.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>