Wednesday, February 13, 2008

EDITORIAL: Be honest and frank

One way or another, the issue is always in your face. Youth violence.
“The scene was familiar,” as Daily Sound reporter Colby Frazier wrote on Tuesday. Because of a slip-up by the prosecution, the Superior Court gang homicide case of Ricardo “Ricky” Juarez returned to square one.
Once again, Juarez, 15, being tried as an adult, pleaded innocent to the March 14, 2007 knife slaying of another 15-year-old on State Street. The Wednesday afternoon melee sparked numerous meetings and soul-searching, both in the neighborhoods and at City Hall.

If there is any common ground, it’s that the surge in youth violence must be crushed once and for all. Is any issue more compelling than public safety?
As the tragic year anniversary of that March day approaches, mayor-backed meetings are being held to confront the challenge of rising gang violence head-on, ostensibly with different approaches, fresh ideas.
Important players in the battle to cap the youth violence surge attended the first session, on Jan. 31. Among the more than three dozen at Chase Palm Park Center were law enforcement, a juvenile court judge, agencies and nonprofits that deal with young offenders, educators, street groups confronting problem kids and adults, and city and county agencies.
Left out was the public. No parents with problem kids. No at-risk youths. No locals concerned about community safety. Not even the mayor or councilmembers who, ultimately, will make the hard political decisions.
The meeting was led by Jim Armstrong, the city administrator. City Hall staff backed him up. Another session, smaller and more focused on the neighborhoods, will be held this month, Don Olson, the city’s special projects manager, told me. Again, the public will be shut out.
To be sure, these are not post 9/11 national security sessions. But they are of great concern to the folks who live here. They need to know what’s going on.
Armstrong’s Jan. 31 memo to the mayor and councilmembers that said those present were “appreciative that this was a closed meeting without the media” doesn’t wash. What does the memo mean when it said, “they were able to engage in an honest and frank discussion” behind closed doors? Why can’t they be “honest and frank” with the public present?
Here are comments from two individuals representing watchdog nonprofits, following Tuesday telephone discussions about what is unfolding here. First is Bob Steele, a senior faculty member, specializing in ethics, of the Poynter Institute of St. Petersburg, Fla. Since 1975, the institute has dealt with issues confronting reporters and editors, future journalists and media instructors.
“There are times when journalists must be extra rigorous in their efforts to scrutinize the powerful when there are deliberations behind closed doors. Sometimes, even when the public officials claim legal protection to close doors to the press and the public, there is ethical justification for journalists to gather and report information that occurs in closed meetings.
“The journalist must weigh the purpose (of this decision) and the public interest (in the closed-door meeting) and the potential negative consequences of revealing the closed-door information.”
The following comments were expressed in an e-mail from Peter Scheer, executive director of the San Rafael-based California First Amendment Coalition, a 20-year-old organization, that, from its Web site, is “dedicated to promoting and defending the people's right to know.”
“Santa Barbara is making a mistake in conducting these meetings behind closed doors. The group is too large to permit discussion of truly sensitive matters, such as specific police tactics. Exclusion of the press and public in these circumstances creates suspicion, which undermines public confidence in the group’s recommendations.”

Ron Soble can be reached at

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is so right on point about what's important that I am surprised there are not many comments on it!

But it could be that the public feels so left out as to be apathetic. Certainly the percentage of those who voted in the last city election, 37% of the registered voters, speaks to that apathy.

Keep the public out of matters of public concern, the public will take things into its own hands if things get bad enough.

Or maybe they - city staff/administration, paid (reminding, here) out of the public trough - think these things are not matters of public concern but are instead issues of image?

And of course the media should be kept away from those for fear of showing that SB is not the holiday mecca all those out of town ads tout.