Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Retaliation Time

I wish we could get past such things, but when you feel somewhat threatened, I believe you are entitled to make it known. (Then again, I likely would have never created this blog had certain incidents that made me feel threatened not occurred during the time I was investigating the Aberdeen-Matawan Train Station project.)

Some strange happenings in the past two days:

1) Holmdel Mayor Serena DiMaso asked the Holmdel Clerk's office to pull legal advertisements from The Courier and place them in the APP, which charges nearly double what we charge. (This extra cost will, of course, go to taxpayers.)

2) We haven't had a dark room at The Courier's office building in about eight years (and thus haven't had to file any chemical-disposal permits with the DEP since that time). Yesterday we received a letter marked "Urgent: Second Notice" (we never received a first notice) stating that we needed to file permits in order to comply with storm water management rules. Apparently, we were mysteriously put back on a state list (e.g. newspapers/publications with dark rooms that handle certain chemicals) with the DEP that we haven't been on for eight years.

I believe this is more than just coincidence. I believe this is retaliation for the reporting we presented to the public this summer.

RE: 1)
This is coming on the heels of an accusation by Ms. DiMaso that a recording of Mr. Kyrillos that we included in a story that ran several months ago was doctored by Terence Wall.

Last week, Ms. DiMaso told an area newspaper that the audio tape of Sen. Kyrillos presented in The Courier's article about a Keansburg development was manufactured by Mr. Wall. I find this highly offensive to me as a journalist. I take a great deal of pride in my work. And I would never present evidence that I had any suspicion was manufactured. (And I'm a pretty damn cynical and suspicious person.)

The audio tape was, in fact, not a tape at all, but a voice mail message that could not have been tampered with. I might add that Mr. Kyrillos, Mr. Wall and other Keansburg officials all acknowledged the existence of the recorded message. The only debate as to the recording was whether or not it was evidence of influence peddling or not. I make no judgment as to that. It is for residents to listen to and make their own determination. Mr. Wall did not bring this recording to The Courier's attention. I heard rumors of its existence and filed an OPRA request with the borough specifically asking for it. I tape recorded this message as it was played from Mr. Wall's voicemail.

I have nothing against Ms. DiMaso. In fact, before Mr. Wall's allegations of a tape of Ms. DiMaso making religious slurs came to light in print, I was considering running a story about it. I ultimately decided against doing so before I was presented with the tape because such allegations, once made, leave a mark whether they are established as true or not. I told this to Ms. DiMaso and she thanked me.

The legals are readily accesible on-line, if the township requests such, and at no extra cost to the township. Despite our ownership's disagreements with Middletown Township in recent years, Middletown never made any attempt to pull our legal advertisements because publishing them in a daily newspaper would come at a significant cost to the taxpayer. The only municipal government to attempt to pull our legal advertisements before was the UFC majority in Keansburg under former Mayor Michael Minervini at a time that The Courier was at odds with that administration. The borough's attorney advised the council that such a retaliatory action was not legal and it was subsequently dropped.

The only reason, in my opinion, that Ms. DiMaso would have for advocating to pull legal advertisements from The Courier is political retaliation for us daring to publish articles describing potential conflicts of interest by Mr. Kyrillos.

Again, I want to emphasize that the cost of this will be passed on to taxpayers.

RE 2)
I find it very strange that we were suddenly put back on a list that we haven't been put on for eight years. I believe that, as well, may likely be an act of retaliation. The DEP's explanations to us as to how we mysteriously came to be put back on this list have been lacking thus far.

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15 Comments:

At 5:05 PM, Blogger William H Seward said...

Jackie,

Not that I'm a suspect, but I had nothing to do with either acts of retaliation.

I've not been following the Kryillos voice mail "scandal", but having just listened to the message, it sounds like much ado about nothing. Joe said, please look into it and if its the "right the to do" help the guy out.

Serena is foolish to act out of spite and cost the tax payers more money for advertising.

That sounds to me like a legislator helping a constituent cut through buearucratic red tape. No doubt, there's alot more to it than I am aware of.

Regarding your Second Notice of the missing permit...it sounds like buearuocratic chain jerking, and is probably related to storied run. Its not right, and its a nuisence to respond to, but it is ultimately of little consequence.

Good luck

 
At 5:14 PM, Blogger Jackie Corley said...

Hi Will,

I make no judgments about the message. Some Keansburg officials found it offensive. Some people said, as you have, that it was much to do about nothing.

It's very offensive to me that Ms. DiMaso is making accusations that the tape was altered and that Mr. Wall came running to us with it. That is completely false. Our OPRA request is on file in Keansburg. Anybody can check for it. It specifically asks for the recording. In fact, Mr. Wall was reluctant to make any strong statement on the matter. He fulfilled the OPRA request because state statutes require him to do so as borough manager.

RE: The DEP thing. It's red tape that is just an annoyance to deal with. But no newspaper should be retaliated against because it pursues a certain storyline (see First Amendment).

Thanks, Will.

 
At 5:17 PM, Blogger Jackie Corley said...

Oh -- and of course your not a suspect. I hope you didn't take that post as a suggestion of such. I meant no such thing. I may disagree with certain opinions of yours but I like an interesting discourse. Life would be incredibly dull if everyone just nodded their heads at each other.

 
At 5:46 PM, Blogger William H Seward said...

I think the tape controversy is more to do with the nonsense going on between Serena and Terry than it is about you or The Courier. It makes both Serena and Terry look bad, but it is no reflection on you.

As far as the retailiation of ads pulled and DEP permits, while I think both or BS, the first amendment guarantees your right to publish as you see fit, but it doesn't protect you from that BS.

 
At 6:19 PM, Blogger michael borg said...

Jackie,

Pulling the legal advertisements could also have to do with The Courier's low circulation. The Asbury Park Press has a much higher circulation than your paper, especially in Ms. Dimaso's town.

Even in Aberdeen your circulation is low which is why Councilman Perry called for pulling your contract with Aberdeen.

 
At 9:35 PM, Blogger Jackie Corley said...

Hi Mike,

With Aberdeen, Perry's vote was not unexpected. Aberdeen officials complained about a low circulation of The Courier in Aberdeen before this summer. Aberdeen Township compared the costs of the daily legal ads to that of The Courier's and found that the increased cost would be significant.

For our part, we increased our circulation in Aberdeen dramtically. We also made the legals available on-line (though our website was down for several months from September to December, which I could understand the township being critical over).

There was a history behind the Aberdeen decision, so I do understand where Mr. Perry was coming from, though I also believe that the situation has been sufficiently rectified. (Certain stores in Aberdeen that used to not sell many Couriers have been selling out the past few months.)

There was no such recent history of problems with Holmdel. We have not received complaints from Ms. DiMaso or other members of the committee about low circulation, let alone requests to remediate any problems, in recent years or even recent months.

With the website redesign we have and will continue to put any legals we receive from Holmdel on-line so that they are accessible for free to citizens. Even a simple link from the township's website to our legals page would make it accessible, if there was in fact a complaint regarding that.

Additionally, the Aberdeen situation played out in public session on more than one occasion. The Holmdel situation was a quick and sudden phone call.

I believe the fact that this decision is coming very suddenly, despite the fact that it will double the cost of legal advertisements to Holmdel and will have to be accounted for in tax payer dollars, is suspect.

Especially since it's coming on the heels of a baseless, and what I consider personally insulting, accusation by Ms. DiMaso the recording of Mr. Kyrillos that we included in a story that ran several months ago was doctored. I'm a thorough reporter. I would never write such an investigative piece without being 100% comfortable with my evidence and documentation. And the fact that this accusation is coming out of left field, several months after the story was published, is bewildering

 
At 10:12 PM, Blogger Jackie Corley said...

Hey Will,

I agree this is partly a reverberation of the Terence and Serena thing.

I just find it particularly offensive because I went out of my way to give Ms. DiMaso the benefit of the doubt with the religious slur allegations. I held back on the story because I thought all it would do was cast a shadow on her whether the tape was produced or not. (Yeah, the Journalista got soft.)

And then to be slapped in the face with the statement that evidence I used in a story was doctored...and the next week to have the legals suddenly pulled from us. It's just ridiculous.

 
At 7:41 AM, Blogger JIM_PURCELL said...

Mike:

Dollars and cents: What Ms. DiMaso is doing is basically raising the amount of money that Holmdel spends over 110 percent in legal advertisements for the next year and more.

What do I mean? Legal advertisements are covered under Title 35 of the NJ Newspaper Law. A Title 35-recognized newspaper must: 1. Be PRINTED in NJ, 2. Have a paid circulation; and 3. Be in operation for at least 2 years. Rates are adjusted by statute, and the law is in operation with pertinent statutes of the NJ Postal Regs.

Courier establishes its rate at the level of the 5,000 mark (rightly according to our PAID circ and subscription). The APP adjusts its rate accordingly, over 120K in circ.

Long story short: We charge less than half of what the APP does by the line. In addition, the APP charges $25 per certificate of annoucnement afterward (and each week there could range from 5-25 certificates, as a ballpark range).

So, you're a Republican mayor who has promised on the campaign trail to slash the budget and the very first thing you do when you take office is raise the legal advertisement budget by more than 110 percent annually.

In addition, Courier posts legal advertisements online free of charge, and our web site is not unheard of. So, your argument is...?

Oh, yeah, I forgot, the newspaper DARED to be critical of Ms. DiMaso's good friend, Mr. Kyrillos. We have mutual friends that told me about the calls he put in during the "SLOPPY JOE" days. You know, I remember another Bayshore mayor who pulled this nonsense. He was a bright young star on the way up. Of course, Mike Minervini bowed out of politics and is now in private life, as I am sure Serena will be sooner than not given the course she has set herself on.

At least Amy was smart enough not to start the "slash and burn" maneuvers until AFTER she was a freeholder for awhile and in good pole position. Serena is going to be a catastrophe at this pace. The legal advertising thing is going to be a dog of an issue next campaign for the GOP in Holmdel. This issue will probably join other issues to help stop a pendulum swing that I would have bankned on. Ms. DiMaso does not understand the broader ramifications of her actions and the consequence of losing what should be a GOP town in her first term as mayor for the party. It is not a career enhancer. It can't be rationalized...it's about TAX MONEY. Serena will probably build onto this with more "good ideas" that she'll be clubbed with come re-election. I would only say to her that she should look carefully at the faces she is stepping on in her quest to the top...because she will see them again on the way down. She is not nearly as bright as Mr. Minervini was, nor half as cunning.

A freeholder candidate coming out of Holmdel is hobbled without the support of the Middletown chair. If Serena had been smart, she would have chose Carton as her bond counsel and started smarming her way up to Bob McKenna. These are the guys with the votes. Becoming a freeholder is about COMMITTEE votes. Either you have them or you don't. Bob has more committee votes innately, but Peter is nearly brilliant and can put together effective blocks of votes. McKenna has a better organization, but Peter is more organized. And, BOTH of them play favorites. That leaves her career... where? Oh yeah, the freshman Holmdel mayor who lost her town back to the Dems at this rate.

Carton has 92 votes he can bring at any time of the day or night. He has a popularity problem in the county, but he CAN put together Long Branch and maybe a few other towns (certainly he could use the 2-River coalition). McKenna comes with 66 from Wall, he can effectively lobby in Howell. He already has Spring Lake, Spring Lake Heights and he can very effectively lobby Eatontown and a few other places with some effort.The question is if he wants to. Peter is more determined; Bob is more influential. I wouldn't tick either one of them off if I had aspirations.

Wow, I guess I don't. I would definitely listen to the people who want to be president of the US and who get paid for public service rather than the guy who makes a subsistance living at a newspaper and volunteers with the NAACP and his town's planning board, and who has NO aspirations of holding any office other than on a volunteer basis. Yeah, I have so much motivation to make my life difficult...for nothing. At this juncture, I wouldn't go near public office with a 100-foot pole, yet I still get all the crap of being an elected official. I'll tell you, it's swell. And, my GOP antagonists are: 1. making public salaries, 2. accruing public pensinos; and 3.using influence to make personal profit.

Yeah... :)

 
At 4:18 PM, Blogger Honest Abe said...

Have you spoken personally with Mayor DiMaso about pulling the ads? She has always seemed like a reasonable person to me.
As far as the voice mail is concerned, there actually has been a theory going around recently that it was in fact doctored. I heard of it just before Christmas and not from Mayor DiMaso or anyone associated with Holmdel Township. Whether it was manufactured or not I don't know, but it would appear to me that the Mayor must have heard the same theory that I did and decided to roll with it, which would explain its appearance now and not when the original story first appeared.
I am not adept at the recording trade, so I am not even aware whether such a thing could be done and sound realistic.

 
At 4:31 PM, Blogger Jackie Corley said...

Hi Abe,

She didn't have the courtesy to call me or anyone at The Courier before saying in print that we ran a story with doctored evidence, so I think I'm within my right posting this. What she said in print has the potential to damage me professionally. I bit my lip about it until the legals were suddenly pulled--without any previously complaint from a town we've done business with for decades.

Whatever rumors were circulating about the Tierra Del Sol recording, all parties involved acknowledged the existence of the voice mail. And, in fact, members of the borough council mentioned it to me before I OPRA'ed Mr. Wall. The only debate I've heard about the tape was whether it was inocuous or not.

 
At 7:29 AM, Blogger William H Seward said...

Jackie:

"She didn't have the courtesy to call me or anyone at The Courier before saying in print that we ran a story with doctored evidence, so I think I'm within my right posting this. What she said in print has the potential to damage me professionally. I bit my lip about it until the legals were suddenly pulled--without any previously complaint from a town we've done business with for decades."

This disappoints me Jackie. Certainly your reputation is more important than ad revenue.

Of course you're within your rights the post about it. That First Amendment is a wonderful thing. But why would you bite your lip when your credibility is questioned but speak up when the revenue of your employer is impacted?

 
At 7:53 AM, Blogger Jackie Corley said...

It wasn't so much the revenue as the retaliatory act, as I saw it, that bothered me.

I don't want the organization as a whole to suffer for storylines I pursued.

I very much value The Courier as a mini-Bayshore institution. Perhaps I put its reputation ahead of my own. I understand how silly that is. But there are a lot of people who work very hard at the paper, in legals, in production, in sales, in circulation, and I feel that they especially shouldn't have to suffer because of storylines reporters pursue.

Particularly -- our legals team is bar-none the best around. One woman has built a relationship with township clerks over the several decades she's been here. The other can tell you much more than you need to know about picas and cost per pica line and affidavit fees and the like. They're solid professionals. They shouldn't have their work undermined because a politician apparently needs to retaliate.

As to my own reputation -- you're right. I shouldn't have just bit my lip. I was hoping the whole thing would just blow over and was just an out-growth of Ms. DiMaso's anger with Mr. Wall.

 
At 6:46 PM, Blogger Romulus Augustus said...

I spoke with Holmdel's mayor and she clarified the legals situation. Holmdel moved their meetings to Thursday evenings, so to meet time restrictions on the printing of ordinances they will send those to the APP, but other notices with a longer time limit or no time limit will be sent to Courier. Courier is not being removed as an official newspaper, nor will it.

 
At 7:52 PM, Blogger Jackie Corley said...

That's not what our legals department was originally told, but I'm glad the situation is being revisited, albeit with some revisionist history on Holmdel's part.

All the same, I'm glad that Holmdel's Thursday meeting was relatively tame. Holmdel's a great little town with wonderful residents (my grandma's one of 'em). This year got off to a rough start for the Township Committee. Hopefully the road will get smoother and I wish Ms. DiMaso a successful tenure as mayor.

And everyone check out Matt's re-launched blog: www.bayshoreplanet.blogspot.com.

 
At 3:35 PM, Blogger Honest Abe said...

I suspected there was something more reasonable there. It seemed a tad out of character.

 

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