"It appears that the Prince George Citizen is at war with City staff," Coun. Jillian Merrick posted on her Facebook page Friday morning. "Just remember folks, if it's in the editorial section, it's an opinion piece, not an article. Be very wary of the 'facts' provided in an editorial."
Turns out she wasn't the only politician concerned over the weekend by warmongering from the news media.
"The Fake News hates me saying that they are the Enemy of the People only because they know it's TRUE," U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday morning. "I am providing a great service by explaining this to the American People. They purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick!"
News anchor S.E. Cupp, who hosts the afternoon show Unfiltered on Headline News, replied best to Trump but her comments apply to anyone who thinks The Citizen or any news media outlet is at war with them.
"With all due respect, Mr. President, you've never seen war," Cupp told her viewers Monday. "Many of the journalists you've besmirched, unlike you, have put their lives at risk to cover important stories of war, genocide, human trafficking, political revolution, disease, natural disasters. Journalists don't cause division and distrust. You do. We are, however, dangerous. You're right about that. We're dangerous to dictators and authoritarians. We're dangerous to misinformation and those who would wield it. We're dangerous especially to people in power. Like you."
To say The Citizen is at war with city staff is misinformation from a politician at its worst.
City workers and firefighters are public servants in the truest sense of the word - serving the public as best they can in their jobs.
The series of editorials that have appeared over the past six weeks have named just 10 city employees, which makes up just over one per cent of city staff. Nine of those employees are senior bureaucrats. The other employee was named on only one occasion and he was named because there were four public sector postings at the same time for the same job he has but the money being offered was substantially less than what he received from the City of Prince George last year.
And The Citizen is not at war with those individuals, either.
The size of their raises over the past several years and the size of their overtime wages billed to Emergency Management B.C. during last year's Cariboo wildfires evacuation is public information. Sharing that information with local residents is not warfare.
It is responsible journalism and in the public interest.
And, based on the feedback, the public is extremely interested.
One reader even criticized The Citizen for not revealing this information sooner.
As for Merrick's dismissive wave that it's just opinion and to be "wary of the facts in an editorial," there is a simple reason why these "opinions' have not run as news stories.
Under the collective agreement with The Citizen's unionized staff, editors outside of the bargaining unit are not permitted to write news stories. Therefore, the analysis of the data has appeared as editorials, not as news stories.
But that's just a distraction.
Whether it's a news story or an opinion piece, whether it's Jillian Merrick or Donald Trump, whenever some politicians see journalism that they don't like, they attack the messenger to try to distract attention from the message and the facts.
"So why doesn't someone from the city write a letter to the editor, to set the facts straight?" Merrick was asked on Facebook.
"We do," she replied, "but the correspondence isn't published in full. Parts of it are picked out and spun in the editorials."
The city's senior communications officer and the director of external relations have both sent one or more emails to The Citizen but they simply stated the obvious. They explained the distinction between directors and general managers. They said the "apples to apples" comparisons between municipalities aren't accurate but hiring a consultant to make those comparisons is still worth the expense. City staff, led by the senior management team, knocked themselves out during the evacuation and overtime paid was simply in accordance with a 2011 policy.
Now that's spin because there's no mention of the heart of the matter.
No mention of the wage increases and their size, especially in comparison to city unionized staff.
No mention of why the number of senior managers increased but yet they all deserved a raise for taking on additional responsibilities.
No mention of the consultant's report that recommended another 15 per cent pay raise for the city manager.
No mention of the consultant's findings that Prince George's senior managers don't deserve a raise because they're already at or well above what their fellow colleagues make elsewhere.
No mention of the size of the overtime payouts.
City manager Kathleen Soltis did send an email to The Citizen last Monday. Most of it contained information that had already been relayed previously, except for the explanation about the rationale behind the management restructure, which was shared at length in an editorial last week.
"I'd be happy to discuss any of this at your convenience," she wrote at the end of her email.
Turns out the offer wasn't genuine.
More on that tomorrow.
-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout