Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Let's Keep a Good Thing Off the Channel

Dan Coody's effort to keep citizen issue forums from the Government Channel has been effective. After firing the City Cable Administrator then assigning public relations assistant Dr. Susan Thomas, Ph.D. to take control of programming and jerking issue forums requested by an Alderman, the administration has effectively guided the Telecommunication Board toward its desired goal of more Coody publicity and less citizen commentary.

Not everyone has fallen for their game nor fallen into line. One of the Telecom Board's subcommittees is struggling to resist the mayor's scheme by proposing a revised policy to continue the forums, but that brave effort is unlikely to make much difference. It has to be approved by the full board, which seems accommodating to the administration's demands, then it goes before the City Council, where the mayor has three sure votes and veto power. Even if the new policy were to be implemented, it is unlikely that any citizen forums could be produced and aired before the November election, and that appears to be Coody's primary concern.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has called a censor a censor. "The board has been in an uproar for months now—ever since Susan Thomas, the unelected information czar of Fayetteville, killed one of the best and most popular features on the Government Channel, or at least sent it into a deep coma. We’re talking about the forums devoted to topics of public interest in town. Ms. Thomas called a halt to those forums after the city attorney—Kit Williams—wondered out loud about their possibly being unfair to somebody or other. The problems weren’t constitutional or legal, he added. But his reservations were enough for Ms. Thomas, whose formal job title at City Hall is public information officer. In this case, she’s acted to squelch public information by shutting down the forums. This is happening in Fayetteville—a city proud of its reputation for vigorous debate."

Like Coody's specious claims about broken bones on the square and a wave of citizen complaints about his opponents' yard signs, the editorial said, "Ms. Thomas’ worries that the forums might be unfair never seemed well grounded in fact. Quite the contrary. For years, going back at least to 1992, these shows have provided worthwhile information on topics of interest to local residents. There haven’t been any significant complaints about the forums, which present all sides of an issue. What could be more fair than that? And what were the subjects of the two pending forums that were cancelled by Ms. Thomas? Why, the future location of Fayetteville High School and possibly moving the Walton Arts Center out of town—two of the hottest local issues around. How can limiting discussion of them help inform the public? Answer: It can’t—and it shouldn’t be allowed to. Not in the free republic of Fayetteville."

The City Council cannot fire Dr. Thomas . The "city administration’s unelected minister of propaganda" answers only to Mayor Coody, who is quite pleased that she is following orders without complaint and has taken most of the heat for his designs. If Fayetteville citizens want a return to open government, they will have to fire Dan Coody.

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