What should you be doing III

pk Obviously from the title there is a a What should you be doing post, a What should you be doing II, and here we have the third installment.  In the second post I alluded to public officials anonymously posting to the Herald site.  Here in number III is a bit more information about possibility of elected officials participating anonymously in the local online community.  Here we go.

One commentor by the name of SigX, has lots of Herald blog activity, 242 comments at last Google count and they occur at all hours of the day and all days of the week.  Someone might think that this is a retired person with endless amount of time on their hands.  But someone else with a small knowledge of the Internet and blogging might be led to think something entirely different.

sigx a sigx b sigx c

Someone with that behind the scenes knowledge would see this:

  • Someone identified as SigX registered a comment using a certain email address
  • That very same certain email address is used to publically register Steve Oliver as the administrative contact for a Ferndale business website domain.
  • And oddly enough someone identified as both SigX and Steve from Ferndale purchased a ceramic courthouse figure that I pictured in my post What should you be doing II.

If the general public had this information, they might believe that SigX is none other than Whatcom County Treasurer Steve Oliver.

However, if you believed that, you might be wondering why a person elected to a non-partisan position would be making obviously partisan comments such as these in the Herald Blogs?

sigx d

If you believed that SigX were in fact Steve Oliver, then what he calls ironic, I would call a sick partisan slap in the face as Steve Oliver was 1 of 4 local candidates who received the support of the Progressive Majority who was actually involved with busing people in to doorbell in Whatcom County.  You know, I think someone made little flyers about it and everyone got really upset, yet still the Herald never really looked into nor reported on the Progressive Majority.  Read more about that here and here.

And if you believe that SigX is our elected, and tax payer paid, Whatcom County Treasurer, you might also wonder why he is making some of those comments, or indeed any comments, during what appears to be business hours?

sigx f

Aren’t there Treasurer duties that need attending to?  If not, then as a taxpayer, I’d like to see our employee doing a McDonalds and sweeping the sidewalks before doing nothing, or worse, playing partisan politics while he’s on the taxpayers clock.

I’m pretty sure that there are ethics rules that govern use of public facilities, i.e. the treasurers office, light, heat, power, and computers.  Are there other rules being broken?  Will there be an ethics complaint filed?  How many other anonymously commenting public officials would pop up if similarly investigated; would we need for ethics complaint forms by the ream?

I don’t have it in for Steve Oliver, nor any other local elected officials; okay, well perhaps a few on the Bellingham City Council, but other than that, I don’t have it in for any elected officials.  For the most part I hear that Steve Oliver is a decent enough guy.  If I wanted to go after him, he might already have an ethics complaint on his desk.

Again, there is more to this situation than just breaking rules; its worse than that.  Public officials who act in secrecy are breaking public trust.  Normally we could rely on the media to investigate those public officials suspected of violating public trust, but in this case the Herald is part of the problem.

Let me back step a bit an applaud those officials such as Sam Crawford, Stan Snapp, Doug Erickson and others who do identify themselves online.

As I said, the Herald is part of the problem.  Not only doesn’t the Herald appear to investigate those who may be violating public trust online, but they operate probably the biggest local online forum where these people hangout and yet seem to have no interest in fixing this situation.  In fact it seems they prefer to see it linger.  Prior to this post I have offered two posts on the subject and numerous letters to the Herald.  Recently I’ve sent 2 letters to Julie Shirley at the Herald.

Portion of 10/6/08 letter

Objectivity and responsibility to the community are the point of this letter, so I won’t ramble on.  I believe that there is at least one elected official using the Herald blogs to further the positions of their party when they should be doing the job that tax payers have hired them to do.  Further, if I know this, then I would bet that Sam does also.  I respect that he protects their anonymity, as he has mine, but I think you need to get with him and draw a guideline that balances respect for anonymity with responsibility to the community, especially in paid positions.  I strongly believe that the Herald has a responsibility to investigate those who have violated public trust.

A simple rule might be to ask for those who are elected to identify themselves and their positions.  If they are unwilling then I believe they should not be allowed to participate and further if it can be found that they continue to participate anonymously, then I think this should be reported.

By the way, in taking this position I am also essentially outing myself because I’ve recently been elected as the Republican PCO for the xxxth.  I’ll be outing myself shortly for those who don’t know me already.

I realize this is a radical departure from the norm within the Herald blogs, but I think it is right and I hope you choose to lead.

Of course I didn’t “x” out the district and I did sign with my real name, but after 1 week with no response I sent this letter, again to Julie Shirley,

Portion of 10/13/08 email

Following up with my 10/6/08 email, I wonder if you have given any thought to the Herald’s responsibility to our community with regards to public officials anonymity?

Neither email received even an acknowledgement from Julie Shirley,  let alone any thoughtful consideration of the problem.   And from a couple of comments by Herald employees, I find the problem at the Herald to be an attitude problem, not a technical problem.

Here Julie Shirley is advising on getting past the registration with a gmail or yahoo account.

The two-step registration process ensures real people are registering for our site, not machines. We need a real email address for you so we can send you a note with a URL for you to click to complete your registration. If that’s what’s holding you back, you wouldn’t be the first to have a gmail or Yahoo account just for registering for sites.

Julie Shirley comment

And in this recent comment from Sam Taylor we find that he knows “nearly all” the commenters.

It’s utterly ridiculous to think I “investigate” the commenters on this site, but I know who many, many are, in fact nearly all, because they have contacted me privately to chat. I’ve also gone to coffee with several of the commenters and a few others have participated in a get-to-know-you event at a few Bellingham Bells games. And they were people from both sides of the political spectrum coming together for the common cause of local baseball.  Sam Taylor: Rumor has it …

So again, I find it to be an attitude problem with the Herald.  We expect the Herald to use the power of the press to help hold public officials accountable, yet that thought seems to be the furthest thing from their mind.  If they refuse to investigate unethical behavior of public officials while using the Herald blogs and forums, then why would we think that they will investigate any public official, or anyone for that matter, if it goes against the interests of the Herald?

And here I leave you with a few questions to ponder.  What will it take for the Herald to finally own up to their responsibilities?  And if they don’t see it is as their responsibility, then what will it take to get them to do it anyway?  Will it take involving them in one ethics complaint?  two? three?   We could do that, or they could just choose to take the lead as I have suggested they do.

I guess time will tell which direction things go.

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