I could be nicer regarding the headline, but the BOC certainly were not when they wrote the letter to the editor that was published in today’s Neigbor. The bottom line is that Worthan does not want to lose the race to Malanchuk. Worthan apparently thought Stephanie Siegel’s July 2 article regarding the information Malanchuk posted in his blog was going to be damaging to his campaign. They even admit this in the letter, though not in those exact words.  I think the damage has been done, and this, in my opinion, only makes Worthan look like someone who is stamping his foot because he’s not getting his way as to what goes in the local papers.

And, if the BOC says planning is not going on, why is there an entire page devoted to the new jail on the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department website?  You can see it here– http://www.sheriff.douglas.ga.us/newJail.html .  It has been there for quite some time, about a year, but if the jail is not in the planning stages, why has this page not been taken down??

Also, they say the mobile home park was disassembled.  This is not true, because last week I heard on the police scanner that three people were vandalizing trailers in the park.  They mentioned the park by name.

You can see the article the BOC is talking about at http://www.neighbornewspapers.com/articles/2008/07/03/318/10308333.txt

The letter is presented below in its entirety:

Jail Construction Story ‘Inflammatory’

Dear editor:

One of our most cherished rights is that of a free press.  It is one of our most fundamental beliefs, and one that we work to protect.

However, when the free press decides to take information that it knows is not correct to create a news story that is inflammatory and presents it in a fashion as to make it seem factual, the free press has lost its way.

Newspaper reporters should report the news, not create the news.

Newspaper reporters should be impartial and report all sides of a story, giving ample time to all sides to answer questions and make statements.

Newspaper reporters should not have a political affiliation that is reflected in their work.

Newspaper reporters should not allow personal opinions to guide their work.  Opinions should be reserved for Letters to the Editor and Editorial Columns, not presented as front-page news.

In her July 2 article headlined “Douglas Jail Construction Planning Continues,”Douglas Neighbor Staff Writer Stephanie Siegel violated these standards.

The headline alone is inaccurate and misleading.  No planning is currently going on for the construction of a new Douglas County jail.  Ms. Siegal was told this in unequivocal terms by Douglas County Seriff’s Department Chief Deputy Stan Copeland on Monday, June 30.  Chief Copeland stated to Ms. Siegel that the jail was a “dormant” issue at this time, and no planning or other activities were going on.

However, Ms. Siegal decided to use documents and information provided to her by a candidate for office to develop an inflammatory story that stated the exact opposite of what Chief Copeland stated to her.  These documents and information were taken completely out of context, as some were over two years old, and some did not present a total picture.  Ms. Siegel did not obtain these documents herself from the County.  They were brought to her and she cooperated with the candidate to create the story.

This obviously was an intentional effort of Ms. Siegel since the candidate for office who provided them to her had previously also put this information out to the public and did not correctly address the issues.

Ms. Siegel’s intentions are obvious and purely political.

Ms. Sigel’s July 2 story is irresponsible.

It is true that the former Flagview Village Mobile Home Park is a prospective site for a new Douglas County jail.  In the 2006 SPLOST referendum, the citizens of Douglas County said that they did not want the current jail to be expanded on the current site, and during community meetings, stated that a new jail, whenever constructed, should be located out of a residential area and closer to the Douglas County Courthouse.  At this direction from the citizens, the Board of Commissioners looked at many properties, and negotiated to purchase the Flagview Vilage Mobile Home Park.

Ms. Siegel’s article states that the land was valued at $3.9 million by the County’s Tax Appraisal Department, and $5.7 million by Bass & Associates  What Ms.Siegel didn’t include in her article was that the purchase of the land included the purchase of a business must include the consideration of the monies made by that business as income and profit, and the Flagview Village Mobile Home Park was a for-profit business.  The county purchased the business, as well as the land, and that is the $8.5 million cost.

Ms. Siegel convieniently leaves out this information, implying that the County paid more than double what the property was worth, and leaving the impression that this is an irresponsible act of government.  Ms. Siegel is wrong.

The county contracted with Richards’ Advantage Housing LLC to handle the management of the park and the removal of the homes.  Ms. Donna Richards personally managed the disassembledge of the park, offering free moving of mobile homes to associated parks, giving tenants bonuses for early moving, and assisting other tenants to find suitable housing.  There is a a deadline date of August 31, for Richards to have the park vacated because the county is not in the business of operating a mobile home park.

No master plan has yet been developed for the 36 acre property, including where the jail would be if it is located there.  There have been many discussions during District Town Hall meetings, Chat with the Chairman meetings, Commission work sessions and other meetings wher the public is present, of the need for other County services to locate near the Courthouse.  The Board of Commissioners recently employed Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum as a consultant to determine a short- and long-term space needs for the courthouse since a second State Court is imminent, and a fourth Superior Court most likely will be created by the General Assembly in its next session.  These courts will displace current county departments, which will have to be housed somewhere.  An administration complex on the 36 acres is possible, as are other county facilities, not just a jail.

However, Ms. Sigel decided not to also include this information in her article, leaving the impression that the land purchase was for a jail onl and that it was a done deal.  A new jail may indeed be located on this property in the future, but there are no plans in place, no planning being conducted, no funds with which to build the jail, and no decision as to its location at this time.  There is a need for a new jail, but the subject is dormant at this time.

The HOK study is for Courthouse needs at the present time.  After the needs analysis is completed, HOK will look at the 36-acre site and give the Board of Commissioners options for its consideration.  However, with no determination of needs, no decisions made, and no funding, any development on the 36-acre site is purely hypothetical at the present time, including the location there of a jail or any other facility.

“Douglas jail construction planning continues” is wrong.  Ms. Siegel knew that it was wrong, and her headline article was inflammatory and designed to influence the upcoming July 15 primary in which the provider of information to her is a candidate.

Ms. Siegel’s statement that “calls to Worthan and to Douglas County project manager Wayne Watson were not returned” is a total cop-out.  The Douglas Neighbor’s press deadline is Monday noon, and this story was conspired and written well before then.  It was already Monday afternoon when Ms Siegel called and left messages for Mr. Worthan and Mr. Watson.  These were given to Douglas County Communications Director Wes Tallon, who contacted Chief Copeland to respond to Ms. Siegel’s questions.  Ms. Siegel has often been told to contact Mr. Tallon if she needs any information from any elected official or employee of the county.  She disregarded that source.

The political view of Ms. Siegel are reflected in her reporting, and this is not free press.  It is biased press, and her comments and opinions do not belong on the front page of the paper.  If the Neighbor newspapers desire her biased reporting to continue, her writings should be limited to the editorial page and labeled as personal opinions.  Freedom of speech is also a wonderful thing, and we encourage its use–just not thinly disguised in a total misrepresentative headline article on the front page of a weekly newspaper.



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