Official Gardner media channels announced a new “Fact Check” segment on Gardner’s social media page June 21.
In the Fact Check, which only remained online about five hours, the un-attributed Facebook post indicated a Gardner News article regarding the decommissioning of the current police station was trying to paint the council in a negative light.
The Fact Check stirred up a lot of comment and was taken down and then replaced by another un-attributed post. In comments, Steve Shute, mayor, said the original post had been written by a city employee who had been dealt with. He declined to provide the name saying he feared “retaliation.” Shute also said no press release regarding the Fact Check had been sent, and that he had no idea who had sent the Fact Check to other media outlets.
City officials have not responded to requests regarding potential liability.
It’s unknown what – if any – checks and balances are in place to monitor unauthorized posts on official city channels, or who has access to the official channels. The “employee” who wrote the Fact Check has not been publicly identified.
According to the city’s Fact Check, “In this week’s paper, this incorrect information is then used in a comparison of Gardner’s demolition of the police station, a commercial brick structure, to Edgerton’s demolition of two wood frame structures for a reported $9,000.”
The Gardner News made no comparison between the two stories; however, the newspaper did quote Don Roberts, Edgerton mayor, who made comments during a public meeting and thanked Edgerton staff for being conservative.
The newspaper articles were separate towns, separate meetings, and separate stories, with more than a week between them. The city’s fact check post was made after the Edgerton story appeared in print.
The “Edgerton spends $9K to demolish buildings” headline came from a public meeting held a week after Gardner’s meeting. Don Roberts, Edgerton’s mayor, mentioned Gardner’s $43K cost, and publicly thanked Edgerton staff for keeping costs down with in-house work when they demolished two buildings for about $9K.
The Gardner News has e mailed Gardner officials, and publicly posted a comment responding to Shute saying the paper would be glad to run a clarification/correction if needed. At this time, there has been no response other than the original, unattributed Fact Check.
The city’s official statement regarding the first Fact Check post, according to Daneeka Marshall-Oquendo, public information officer, is “The “Fact Check” post led to some productive discussion online and behind the scenes about the relationship between our city government and our local media to ensure we have a positive relationship that leads to timely, accurate information being delivered to our residents. We look forward to moving ahead to ensure we continue “Blazing New Trails” for our current and future generations.”
The headline of the article referred to by Fact Check was: “Gardner approves $43K study to decommission police station on Main.” The story was accompanied with three photos of the former GPD stations, including Kenny Francis, former police chief. The sub story provided history and memories of the current (Main St.,) station. The impetus of the story was that the old building is being decommissioned. A ribbon cutting is scheduled for the new Gardner Justice Center July 11.
According to the un-attributed fact check post on the city’s Facebook, the $43K figure is incorrect and should be split in several ways.
In the original “Fact Check,” the Gardner official writes “Over the past two weeks, The Gardner News has inaccurately reported that the City of Gardner is spending $43,000 to “decommission” the existing police station. In this week’s paper, this incorrect information is then used in a comparison of Gardner’s demolition of the police station, a commercial brick structure, to Edgerton’s demolition of two wood frame structures for a reported $9,000. The information reported in The Gardner News is inaccurate and attempts to portray the City of Gardner as being mismanaged and wasting taxpayer dollars. As outlined in the agenda packet for the June 3rd City Council meeting, the cost of professional services associated with the demolition of the police station, environmental impact assessment due to asbestos and lead, and evaluation of salvaging and reusing the high bay structure is $19,400. The remaining balance of $24,500 is devoted to the City Hall project that includes an accessibility and life safety review. So in summary, the City of Gardner is NOT spending $43,000 to “decommission” the police station.”
According to the June 12 Gardner News published article, Gardner staff said the cost of the needs assessment and police station demolition would cost the city an estimated $43,650. Further it says, Michael Kramer, director of public works, said during a June 10 meeting that as part of the assessment, environmental conditions will be reviewed including asbestos and lead. It will be assessed as part of the professional services offered by Treanor Architects. These professional services include evaluating functional space relationships, space allocations and space needs, public access and visitation, deferred maintenance, security deficiencies, life safety, lighting, design concepts and cost estimates, he said. Then, responding to a question by Todd Winters, councilman, Kramer said that the work “could not be conducted internally by his department: This requires a combination of knowledge, expertise and equipment and just the sheer amount of time needed is beyond our capabilities.” The complete article is available at gardnernews.com.
The story will be updated as information becomes available.
Traditionally, the editorial page of newspapers are open for rebuttals and opinions.
A request to know what checks and balances are in place regarding the city’s official communication channels has not yet been answered by city officials.