Monday, February 21, 2011

Hillside plan and steep concerns

I really don't like explaining myself, but I don't like to be rude, either. I got an email this morning about I story I wrote today. I'll share it here, although I won't include the MPC commissioner's name. I will, however, say this person did in fact post a similar note on the KNS message board, so I feel that it's note unfair to republish the email here. On a side not, the county commission will hold a workshop tomorrow at 4 p.m. At the City County Building to further discuss the plan designed to protect the area's hillsides and ridgetops.

Here is the email (my response follows):

Mr. Donila,

As an MPC Commissioner and a supporter of the Hillside/Ridgetop Plan, I have been following the KNS coverage of this closely. And I’ve been VERY disappointed. There have been story after story about the opposition (including the new story in today’s edition), but still no story explaining just what the plan IS. How do you expect your readers to evaluate the positions of either the opponents or the supporters if you don’t explain what the plan is and is not, and identify which objections are completely bogus (as in, not in the plan) versus those that have merit?

I talked to (editorial writer) Scott Barker about this six weeks ago and he talked to (Metro Editor) John North about it, but nothing ever happened. Two weeks ago I called John North myself and left a voice mail.He never called me back, but after the 2/10 MPC meeting (KNS business writer) Ed Marcum came up to me and told me he would be working on a story about plan content. However, as of Friday 2/18 neither Joe Hultquist nor Tony Norman had been interviewed by Mr. Marcum, so I’m assuming that story isn’t happening.

I’ve lost count of how many stories on the opposition to this plan you guys have published, yet you failed to even print a story about the MPC passage of the plan by a vote of 11-2 in Dec. But another story focusing on opposition the day before the Commission workshop - THAT you’ll print.

I’m not big on conspiracy theories, but I’m beginning to think the KNS wants the plan to fail and that’s bleeding over into the news coverage. At the very least, reporters are letting the opponents shape the coverage.

I’m not asking for a story focusing on all the people and organizations that support the plan, although that would be nice.All I want is a story simply explaining what the plan does and does not, is and is not. It might not be as easy as getting developers to whine to you, but it would do your readers a big service.

Here is my response:

Good morning.

I can speak only on the story I wrote today, but I hope we can agree to disagree.

I'll try to address each of your points as best I can.

I feel we explained what the plan is. In addition to running a box with the story in today's paper that had some “details,” we also ran a resignation letter AND we linked to the MPC plan. Further, I included the following graphs in the story:

The proposed guidelines are designed to protect the aesthetics and deal with water quality, erosion and flooding. A joint 23-member city-county task force began developing them in March 2008 after the Knoxville Utilities Board built a water tower across Fort Loudoun Lake from downtown.

The plan, which could have an impact on a third of the county, restricts development on slopes beginning at 15 degrees and gets more restrictive as slopes get steeper.”

I feel by including the information (the plan, the box, the resignation letter and touching on the plan and why it exists) we have done a good job at explaining the plan.

Regarding Mr. Barker and Mr. North. I would try calling them again. Both take a ton of calls every day, so it's possible you were overlooked. Also, two weeks ago John was out of town.

Regarding Ed Marcum. I can't speak to that. I don't know what Ed is working on.

On a side note, it has bean reported that the MPC passed the plan. Regardless, it's not an issue because I was reporting that it's now headed to the commission and the council, which therefore means the plan was passed.

As far as focusing on the opposition. My first phone call was to Tony Norman (a plan supporter). He started focusing on the opposition. Not me. With that said, I quoted three supporters – Tony, Lisa and Carberrry. I quoted two opponents. I also quoted Mike Hammond and Dean Rice, but neither had an opinion.

Additionally, the focus of this story is not to explain the plan detail by detail, but rather to let people know that there is a commission workshop to discuss it, and to let the residents get engaged in these discussion. Also, a big part of this – whether you agree or not – it the request by some to have letters mailed to the property owners. That is an issue that will be debated in the upcoming weeks, possibly months. The commissioners are weighing in on this proposal as is the mayor's office.

Again, I hope this helps and we can agree to disagree. There's no conspiracy in the news coverage. I do not own property that would be affected under the plan. I don't have a dog in this fight.

Please feel free to call me.


Mike Donila

I am not sure what more the letter writer wanted. I hope I answered the person's questions. If not, perhaps the county commission will. This is a hot issue right now, so public discussion is always encouraged.


Anonymous said...

Gee, thanks for posting this w/o my permission. If I had wanted that email posted publicly I would have done so myself. I'll remember not to send you an email ever again.

I don't think I could have been clearer about what I want, but it's very simple: I want a story that doesn't focus on opposition (or support) but that explains in some detail exactly what the plan does and does not do. That's the story the KNS has so far failed to publish.

Just stating that the plan applies to 15% slope and above and gets progressively more restrictive does NOT explain what's in the plan. And seriously, linking to a letter from an opponent explains the plan???

For example, how does the plan differ from current guidelines for low density residential? For land zoned agricultural? For medium density residential or commercial? The answers to those questions would help folks understand how the plan changes current practice and how much it will actually impact those 62,000 acres.

And how about a discussion of the incentives for developers included in the plan?

Just a few examples of what I want to see.

You would do your readers a service by detailing what is in the plan, so that they have something to evaluate the comments of both the opposition and supporters against.

BTW, John North tells me that an in-depth story is planned for 3/13. Too bad it's taken so long to happen, but I will be very happy to finally see it.

Finally, I have no problem with KNS publishing stories about opposition to the plan. That is part of the story. My problem is that that has been pretty much the sole focus of your coverage.

Anonymous said...

62,000 parcels, not acres

Mike Donila said...

I'm not sure why you'er offended that I posted a letter here that is very much like what you posted on I did not include your name. I can respect your privacy. However, if you wrote a letter, perhaps others feel the same, so I wanted my answers out there.

I think if you look through our archives you will find that many of the requests you have made have actually been covered, although not in one in-depth organized story. That is coming as you said.

I suspect that the reason it has not come sooner is because the plan has changed. It's best to wait until it gets into the hands of a larger forum, like the county commission and the city council, which cold kick it back to the MPC for further adjustments.

Linking to the letter does actually help explain the plan. Not fully, of course, but it provides some insight into the plan, albeit not I imagine insight that supporters of the plan have. But, because I - I personally requested - to link the plan to the story. I also felt in fairness that we should like the letter, too.

Again, the focus of my story is not to provide every piece of detail in that plan. That is your job. Your plan. If I were to write that type of story, I might as well cut and paste the plan into our newspaper.

My job is to let the opponents and supporters weigh in. My job is to let people know that this meeting is coming up. My job is to help engage discussion.

I'm sorry you don't agree.

Anonymous said...

I'm offended because you published my personal correspondence to you w/o asking me. The email to you is much more detailed than what I wrote in comments - and I didn't identify myself there as an MPC Commissioner. You took away my ability to make public what I wanted to make public and what I did not.

Your job is not to provide detail about what's in the plan to your readers? Really??? That's what they teach in journalism school these days? That your job is to let supporters and opponents weigh in? Dude, that's exactly the kind of journalism Jon Stewart makes fun of every night.

Don't you think it might help your readers evaluate the "weighing in" of supporters and opponents if you took a bit of time to detail what the plan actually IS? I dunno; context seems a bit important to me.

As for the plan changing, it hasn't changed since 12/13 when it was adopted by MPC. That's been two months.

Much of the workshop tomorrow will deal with waht the plan is and isn't. I assume you will be covering the workshop; will it be your job to report on that presentation or only on the reaction to it?

Again, I have no problem with the KNS publishing stories about opposition to the plan. That's part of the story. My problem is with what you HAVEN'T published - a clear explanation of what the plan does.

But it's clear that you either don't "get" or choose not to get my concerns. I don't want to fight with you any longer, so I will leave it at that.


Mike Donila said...

Likewise. We don't agree with each other. That's fine. I'm not mad. But what I was getting at is that it's not my job to provide "every" detail. It can't be done in the limited space we have. As far as how I cover tomorrow's story? Let's see what happens at the meeting. See you there.

Anonymous said...

Don't expect every detail. But there's a lot of ground between "cutting and pasting the entire plan" and "the plan starts at 15% and gets more restrictive from there."

And yes, I'll be there tomorrow.

Redfox said...

It is disturbing that an MPC Commissioner would want correspondence with a newspaper reporter considered confidential. It is further disturbing that an MPC Commissioner would use Jon Stewart, a comedian, as a credible authority on journalism.

All emails and other forms of correspondence from public officials are considered public information and are subject to the public information act. You should have published the commissioner’s name with the correspondence. I do not see any MPC Commissioners names in the comment section of the news story you linked to on this blog that is in todays paper.

Is there an MPC Commissioner posting an advocacy opinion on a matter to be voted on using an anonymous name? If a government official, appointed or elected, posts anonymously on a blog or comments on a KNS story with an opinion as to the outcome of a vote, is that breaking the Sunshine Law or is it just a conflict of interest? There should be full disclosure by any government official that is attempting to sway public opinion on any public forum.

This behavior in itself appears to be a story.

Anonymous said...

Wow , how old is this "dude"? Gee, "i dunno" but if this is what/who is "representing" my interests on MPC, I want no part of this plan!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mike for reporting on this MPC Commissioner. It is good to know the kind of tricks this person is up to.