Does Ireton REALLY Speak for City?
Sunday's front page Daily Times article is, admittedly, a less than flattering profile of incumbent Salisbury mayor Jim Ireton. Like its companion piece about candidate (and SBYNews publisher) Joe Albero, we will concur that the piece is accurate. However, informed observers of Salisbury politics and government will note that what was omitted from this piece makes it a borderline puff piece.
Jim Ireton - Control Freak
Yes Ireton does appear to be a bit of a control freak, but his motivations (not his actions) are the real story here. Reporter Jeremy Cox portrays an Ireton that may need therapy for his OCD, but (by and large) his heart is in the right place. Really? Dig beneath some statements and a totally different picture appears:
But the part-time schoolteacher, who is seeking re-election this spring to a second term, goes farther than any of his predecessors in recent memory, according to those familiar with behind-the-scenes workings at the city of Salisbury and Ireton himself.
Under a policy imposed by Ireton, no media inquiries posed to city employees, including department heads, can be answered unless the mayor is first consulted. If he’s the first Salisbury mayor to do that, he said, it’s because “no previous mayor has had to deal with the 24-hour news cycle.”
...Ireton also helps craft virtually all news releases, including those warning of traffic lane closures and approaching severe weather.
First of all, the 24 hour news cycle began with CNN in 1980 (Ireton was in grade school). Politically, it became a major factor in 1992 (Ireton was in college). Salisbury has NEVER really had a 24 hour news cycle. While SBYNews may come close, Ireton won't return its phone calls. Because of changes in printing, the Daily Times has actually seen its deadline window shrink while Ireton has been mayor. So why did Cox included it? Because it sounded good?
Politics, NOT Policy
The facts are that Ireton exercises a stranglehold over city media access because he views the role of mayor as strictly political. Ireton uses press conferences and press releases to attack his political opponents rather than a means to inform the public. Taxpayer dollars are spent to construct little theater sets around the city so that Ireton can have the right visual backdrop for his screeds against council members Debbie Campbell, Terry Cohen, and Tim Spies. Does anyone remember his budget veto rant accussing the council majority of being against everything short of mom, apple pie, and puppies or Ireton standing on a street corner and implying that they were racists because they didn't want to see taxpayer dollars spent on quarter million dollar apartments at "The Bricks" or seeing the city go deeper into the property management business?
While we had numerous policy disagreements with Ireton's predecessor, Barrie Parsons Tilghman, she was a piker when it came to manipulating the media.
In addition to forbidding city department heads from commenting to the media, Ireton has continued the policy of refusing council members from having access to department heads as well. Council can't get answers to questions so they can't vote on legislation. What is Ireton's response? He has the chutzpah to then call a press conference and attack the council for "not doing the people's business". If you have ever read Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22, you would realize that Salisbury government under Jim Ireton exemplifies the term more than almost anything else today.
Yes Cox glosses over the fact that Ireton refuses access to department heads, but where is the research into why?
I know that I'm not the only reader to ask the question: Given that Ireton is a part time mayor, and given that his chooses to micromanage media access to city government, and given that Ireton seems to put far more effort into politics rather than governance, is it any wonder that Salisbury's economy isn't getting better?
If you bothered to read the complete article, you would find the most telling portion right at the end:
Some employees grumble privately about the policy, but they declined to discuss it on the record for fear of jeopardizing their jobs. One department head contacted begged off discussing the policy even anonymously, then contacted Ireton immediately about the conversation.
A text message from Ireton to The Daily Times came a short time later: “I would have given you somebody to use as a source. now you gotta submit questions to any dept 24 hours in advance.
In a subsequent phone conversation, Ireton said the incident illustrated why the mayor-first policy exists. Asked how the reporter could trust that an employee selected by Ireton would be able to speak freely, the mayor said he would never threaten an employee with their job over their comments.
Vindictive is really too kind (and certainly too mature) a term to describe Ireton's behavior. It looks like Ireton is taking behavior lessons from his 10 year old students rather than the other way around.
This Isn't Dragnet
I could be wrong to claim Cox's piece was factually inaccurate. Unlike the Albero piece, I also don't claim that Cox even misrepresents facts. Unfortunately, this isn't an episode of Dragnet. "Just the facts" doesn't cut it when you are doing any type of investigative piece. You have to dig a little deeper. You have to look at motive. Sure you need to disclose what you're doing, but you need to do it!
Tune in tomorrow for the third and final instalment.
Tune in tomorrow for the third and final instalment.
G. A. Harrison is a former editor of Salisbury News and a guest contributor. He also writes at the DelMarVa Observer.