For the benefit of readers who missed it at the time, last August Mayor Kim Love led an attack on The Current, its owners and one of its reporters. It arose because earlier on August 27, the day of a Council meeting, the Mayor was provided with ammunition she believed would likely constitute a fatal blow to a newspaper that she had made no secret of her distaste for. The ammunition was in the form of a letter written by the Township’s lawyer, Paul Cassan, with whom it should be noted The Current had had recent investigative contact. His letter suggested that The Current’s publisher had been dishonest about public statements he had made about his previous legal career. Mr. Cassan recommended that the letter, which would otherwise have been confidential because of solicitor/client privilege, be made public – an invitation which the Mayor was more than happy to accept, saying, “I think this would be a very good thing to share with the public.”
No matter that:
- had he been told what was in the letter the publisher, who was sitting in the audience, would have been able to disprove the damaging innuendo by simply making a ten-minute journey and providing the documentary proof of his public statements.
- there was no urgent need for the Cassan letter to have been disclosed the same day that it was received.
- it contained baseless accusations, which must have been fed to Mr. Cassan, concerning the publisher “straining the limited resources of the Township.” This prompted Council to pass an immediate resolution designed to portray the publisher as a frivolous time-waster.
- taking advantage of Mr. Cassan’s character assassination, spurious, fact-free slurs and a demand for money were also made against both the publisher and editor.
- when the publisher provided the documentary proof the following day that refuted Mr. Cassan’s insinuations, he requested a public retraction and apology, and a $500 contribution to the St. Francis Valley Healthcare Foundation, all of which requests were ignored.
The latest action/reprisal on the part of the Township which should be of concern to taxpayers relates to its reneging on a promise to allow The Current to bid for municipal advertising. The Current has, for more than two years, made written requests of the CAO to be allowed to submit a tender for advertising pursuant to the Township’s Procurement By-Law. The By-Law contains the following requirements which reflect public institutions’ obligations to their stakeholders to allocate their resources in a non-discriminatory and cost-effective manner. It states that the goal includes:
- “… to encourage open competitive bidding for the acquisition and disposal of goods and services where practicable; and
- … to ensure the acquisition of goods and services is conducted in an unbiased way not influenced by personal preferences, prejudices or interpretations.
- … to ensure equality among vendors by promoting fair open competition for all.”
Until this week The Current had been led to believe that it could participate in a bidding process, the CAO having last year advised The Current that it would be invited to submit an RFQ (Request For Quotation) “following the budget.” The Procurement By-Law mandates a procedure whereby eligible bidders should be invited to submit RFQs as part of a tendering process.
Despite the CAO’s promise, no invitation had been received so The Current recently wrote to her stating its wish to make progress. This resulted in the CAO responding by saying, contrary to what she had said before, “… there is no plan to procure for advertising.” In its response The Current questioned this referring to the terms of the By-Law set out above reminding her that she should “ensure that the acquisition of goods and services is conducted in an unbiased way not influenced by personal preferences, prejudices or interpretations.” We asked CAO Klatt to confirm that the policy of using only the Valley Gazette newspaper on a non-competitive basis was in no way influenced by “personal preferences, prejudices or interpretations.” Also we asked her to confirm that the decision, which is the sole responsibility of the CAO, has not been influenced through a member or members of Council inter-meddling in the process. She has declined to provide that assurance.
We had reminded the CAO that The Current is a not-for-profit business which donates its news coverage to all members of the community, both online and in print. In addition we provided her with up-to-date readership statistics indicating the extent of our audience reach to MV’s target audience, which we believe is at least comparable to that of the Valley Gazette, hardly surprising since their readers have to pay to read that newspaper both online and in print. Also we pointed out, to no avail, that the County of Renfrew advertises with The Current, as does the Madawaska Valley Public Library, the Barry’s Bay Legion and other Valley businesses and organizations.
MV taxpayers have every right to an explanation for this refusal on the part of a municipal government to comply with its own By-Law enacted to ensure that taxpayers are getting value for money in respect of the various services that it pays for. The fact that for more than two years the Township has not sent one cent to a publication that has provided a continuous stream of public interest and community news on a daily basis to the citizens that the Township serves is disappointing, to say the least, especially as the advertising is capable of being shared between the two local newspapers.
It has been suggested to us on many occasions that the difference between The Current’s editorial policy and that of the Valley Gazette plays a role in this state of affairs. The publisher of the Valley Gazette, to give him his due, admitted to The Current’s owners in December 2018 that “it was not in his economic interests” to ruffle the feathers of local politicians.
The Current has previously disclosed that following the refusal by Council and the Township to enter into mediation of the legal issues arising from their conduct at the meeting of August 27 2019, the publisher, editor and MadValley Media (The Current’s owners) have commenced legal proceedings to deter a continuation of such conduct. These proceedings are ongoing. In our view that is a separate matter quite apart from the day-to-day business of running a free community newspaper and the municipality’s statutory obligations to taxpayers to minimize its cost of doing business. Apparently, the Township does not share this view.
Danielle Paul, Editor