Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Response to KGO story

Above: My moment of TV fame. How long has my nose been that big?

The story on the South San Francisco Housing Authority's painting contract aired last week, and the funniest comment I heard was when my wife's uncle agreed that I was the "least-incompetent" sounding member of the Board of Commissioners. High praise indeed.

The story is up on the KGO site (click here), with a video link.

What's even more exciting is that Axios linked to my previous blog posting and offered me some good-fun criticism (maybe it wasn't meant as such, but that's how I choose to take it). The owner, Nicolas Theodorides, felt obliged on Feb. 7 to register Axios4Fairness.com simply to belittle my blog posts (at least that's currently — as of 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 9 — the only content). I'm sure he meant it to take apart my side of the story, yet I really enjoyed it (save for one particular part, below). Apparently, I wrote a bunch of stuff between the lines that I wasn't even aware of!

(Also, being nervous on camera is apparently incriminating, according to Axios.)

Axios keyed on my love of cookies (which, I might add, I buy myself and bring to my SamTrans meetings) and the company's blogger even offered to buy me cookies in thanks for my entertaining them with my post. While I'd like to say I prefer toll house with walnuts (or if Theodorides wants to introduce me to some Greek cookies, kourambiethes), Theodorides seems to have so much bile for the SSFHA that I'm worried some will get into the batter. Therefore, I must decline. If he'd like to donate some cookies to a local food bank (such as Second Harvest) on my behalf, it would indeed be appreciated.

Also, they seem to think that my linking to a "bizarre" Twitter post made at 2:17 a.m. one morning was somehow relevant -- apparently there's some significance that I'm awake at that hour tweeting about cookies. Well, Mr. Theodorides, like your employees, I have to work for a living. It just so happens that my shift is overnight. (As for it being "bizarre," if the folks at Axios bothered to read my Twitter timeline, the tweet would have made more sense). As for it being included at all, this was a personal blog post not an official statement.

I can take criticism, good-natured or not. The only thing that was truly irritating to me in Axios' post was the insinuation that I was trying to suck up to Dan Noyes as a "peer." I realize I am in no way close to Noyes' class as a journalist. He has much more experience and insight than I do (there I go sucking up again). But I do indeed have a BA in journalism, three years experience on staff for local newspapers and, yes, another decade's experience stringing for newspapers and magazines both in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. The wonderful thing about this country is there's no licensing authority for the media and it's not for anyone else to tell me whether or not I'm a "journalist."

While the author of Axios4Fairness remains anonymous, he (or she) seems to think I made a mistake by being forthcoming. While I did want to present the facts on the bid as I saw them (and most folks would probably agree that such a perspective is valuable), the primary focus of the blog posting was to give an insight into the process from the interviewee's side. I agree with Theodorides (or whoever wrote the Axios blog) that I was unusual in being so forthcoming in my blog -- but don't you want that from your public officials? (We have to register our holdings with the FPCC, so yes, we are classified as public officials.)

As for the piece itself: I’m disappointed that Noyes did not ask for our side of the story about the rejected bids, nor mention one key point — the Board wholeheartedly agreed with Tripsas that the exclusion of bids such as hers over semantics was ridiculous and immediately changed the policy. We now do not require any specific language, simply a clear statement to the same effect as “sealed bid.” Unfortunately for Tripsas, to make the policy retroactive would have required the board to reopen ALL bids and delay the painting contract for at least a month. These buildings — again, not painted in seven years — had spots where the paint was peeling and needed the work done fast. Not to mention such a move would inevitably draw a protest from one or more of the previously accepted bidders who would think the change unfair.

An ethical question for all you journalism professors out there (with probably no right answer): Noyes produced many documents and e-mails (including bid packets) that Axios’ lawyer gathered through a Freedom of Information Act request. Noyes used them in his package, yet did not once include the disclaimer that he got them through Axios. (There was no request to the Housing Authority seeking documents from Noyes, ABC 7 News or any other media organization.) If I recall Prof. "Mac" McClary's media ethics class up at Humboldt State more than a decade ago, a reporter should mention that the bulk of the documentation comes filtered through one of the interested parties so the readers/viewers can judge for themselves if they've been filtered).

Otherwise, hey, good piece. The unfortunate portrayals of a couple fellow Board members, at least compared to how I perceived my own performance, did reaffirm my belief that silence in the face of a media investigation is counter productive. We had nothing to hide and I stated as much, answering Noyes' questions to the best of my ability to remember events from seven months previously. (I am disappointed that the only bit of the five-minute interview that Noyes used was the part where I seemed to throw my fellow board members under the bus!)

To summarize my thoughts on this process, yes there were problems in accepting bids. I agreed with Tripsas at the June meeting and urged the board then and there to change the policy. Yes, I think that the recommendation to throw out the highest and lowest bids was arbitrary, which is why I dug deeper. And yes, I think that the next-lowest bidder should have gotten the bid and my motion at the meeting reflected that. I still, however, stand by my not accepting Axios' bid. Again, no references were listed (if Axios' owner had people willing to vouch for him from his previous company, the company should have listed them) and the insurance certificate was listed as "pending" in the bid packet. Sorry, but I don't gamble like that.


randomlife said...

I'm glad to hear your side. It makes the I-Team spots on ABC seem like they are just going for sensationalism -- they would rather have a tantalizing news story then investigate it fully from both sides.

Dropping the two lowest bids is arbitrary and makes no sense to me. But there's no way that I would accept a bid that had no references and pending insurance. If Axios had other references under another name, they should have included them -- did they expect you to do the research yourself? And "pending" means that the insurance is not a certainty -- if it were, they would have said so.

I thought you seemed very personable on camera and definitely one of the good guys. Too bad they slanted the story.

And wow, that web site about you is funny! I'm not sure the author understands what a personal blog is. Of course you're going to throw in little things about cookies, being nervous, etc.! Your readers appreciate that.

John C. Baker said...

Yeah, I told Claire that the website was kind of like Carly Fiorina's demon-sheep commercial about Tom Campbell: Something they meant to be a little funny about a serious issue but just came out looking like a parody.

Claire said...

If I'd have known how much entertainment you would get out of a blog thrashing you, I would have started one years ago. I know the good stuff!

-Your wife