2015-10-14 / Editorials

Town’s woes not paper’s fault

By Dick Sanford

A letter to the editor in last week’s paper requires a response. The letter, written by Margaretville resident Jo Bernhardt, a close personal friend and political supporter of Middletown Supervisor Marge Miller, took the News to task for what she believes is a lack of credibility on the paper’s part and for biased coverage of Miller and the way she has managed the affairs of the Town of Middletown. We strongly disagree and stand firmly behind our work.

Bernhardt’s letter, in which she accuses the News of slanting its coverage of Miller and attempting to influence the upcoming election, is little more than an attempt to kill the messenger of bad news, a time honored and successful political tactic. If the messenger of bad news can be successfully discredited, then the message is also discredited.

Coverage has been ugly

Bernhardt, who to our knowledge has attended few, if any, town board meetings since Miller came into office, is correct in her assertion that the News’ coverage of the Town of Middletown has been ugly. Why? Because what’s been going on at the Town of Middletown has been ugly and the paper’s coverage simply reflects that.

This year, even more so than when she was first elected in 2010, and then reelected in 2012, the supervisor herself is the campaign issue. More to the point, Miller’s well-documented temper has become her own worst enemy. It has energized her political opposition and crippled the town board. And, she and her political supporters don’t see it or won’t admit it.

Always blaming others

To his dying day, President Richard Nixon believed that reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and The Washington Post, were responsible for ruining his presidency. He truly believed that the two respected journalists, and one of the finest newspapers in the world, were out to get him. Nixon never took ownership of the fact that it was his own behavior that was responsible for his downfall. The press coverage that he so loathed simply reflected the nature of the story and the illegal acts of Nixon and his inner circle.

It’s a long stretch to make comparisons between presidential politics in 1972 and the local situation as it exists in Middletown today but there are similarities.

Nixon faced an easy reelection. His only real opponent was himself. The 800-pound gorilla in the room in the Town of Middletown today is much the same as it was in Nixon’s Whitehouse in 1972. Town of Middletown Supervisor Marge Miller has become her own worst enemy. Her volcanic temper, more so than any other issue, is the issue this year.

Early troubles

Miller came into the supervisor’s office in 2010, a bright and energetic woman full of promise. But she quickly set the tone for her administration at a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Fairview Library when, without provocation, she lit into the trustees in a tirade that left those in the room shaken. One person at the meeting told the News, “I thought her head was going to explode.” And it hasn’t gotten any better. Miller has had run ins with just about everybody who works at the town office. Town attorney Carey Wagner quit his post in frustration and wrote this newspaper a letter highly critical of Miller’s behavior, especially taking note of her hostile relationship with other town employees.

Her off color, on-the-record remarks have also drawn their share of coverage but we find them less troubling. In today’s gender equality world, a female politician chastising here male board members for what she saw as a lack of support for something that she thought was important, ought to be able to tell them to, “grow a pair.” Screaming, “bull shit, bull shit” at two other town board members during a board meeting is a little less understandable but the language is evidence of her inability to control her temper.

Supervisor dropped the case

Bernhardt also continued to beat the drum over the issue of Town of Middletown Code Enforcement Officer Pat Davis’s mileage reimbursement. Davis, who is now an Independent Party candidate facing Miller in the November election, has had his mileage reimbursement examined time after time and the result has been the same. There is no evidence that chicanery existed. Miller herself directed the current town attorney to drop the matter.

Few in our society today seem willing to take ownership for their behavior. We all want to blame someone else. Nixon blamed the reporters who, in his view, were out to get him. Locally, when we get pinched in the 35 mph zone through Arkville we blame the trooper. “Ticket quota,” “rookie cops in training,” “speed trap,” we whine.

If Supervisor Miller and her supporters would like coverage that’s less harsh, there’s one simple way to get it. The Catskill Mountain News does not now nor has it ever driven the agenda of the supervisor or the town board. The paper doesn’t start or end political fights. If the paper’s story of a meeting sounds ugly, you can bet that the meeting was ugly. It’s that simple. When the supervisor can’t control her temper in a public meeting, her temper becomes the story.

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