EDITORIAL | Casting political shade

Date:

Hot Springs Mayor Pat McCabe’s verbal tongue-lashing of “the media” and a fellow city director during a Hot Springs Board of Directors workshop last weekend was an increasingly rare instance of the mayor commenting directly on a controversial issue rather than use City Hall as his mouthpiece.

And why not? By our count, The Sentinel-Record’s reporter, David Showers, was the only member of the public present at the Aug. 5 workshop. That’s hardly surprising, since the official notice of the meeting had only been sent out by email the morning of Aug. 4, and the workshop was held at a local hotel, not a public venue such as City Hall. No worries about having to answer pesky questions from the public or worry about it being streamed live on YouTube.

City Director Phyllis Beard told the board at the goals and priorities workshop that she believed directors had a conversation about an ordinance setting standards for air conditioning in tenant-occupied dwellings at a board meeting Aug. 1, a few minutes before the meeting started, in the board conference room at City Hall. Her colleagues denied the accusation when McCabe asked for their recollection of the discussion in the conference room.

“It’s imperative that if we’re going to provide a statement to the media, it’s an accurate statement,” McCabe told the board at the workshop. “The media is not necessarily interested in the whole story. They’re interested in what causes somebody to jump out and read it, whether it’s sensationalism or controversy or creating an adversarial situation. It’s imperative that when we give a quote, it’s an accurate quote.”

Actually, “the media,” which we take to include us, are interested in the “whole story,” which is why we ask questions and request a response to those questions from our elected officials. The mayor’s remarks appear disingenuous, then, when he fails to respond personally to those questions, relying instead on carefully crafted written statements passed through someone else.

The Sentinel-Record requested comment from Mayor McCabe regarding Director Beard’s claim that the vote to pull the maximum temperature standards ordinance was engineered in the board conference room prior to the start of the Aug. 1 business meeting.

Mayor McCabe has yet to respond to The Sentinel-Record’s request for comment, but City Manager Bill Burrough shared an email he sent the board Aug. 2 in response to questions Beard had about the previous night’s vote.

“The mayor mentioned that you had an inquiry regarding last night’s meeting,” Burrough said Aug. 2. “I am sending what I sent to the board members that should address your inquiry as well.”

To which we say, Mr. Burrough, it does not. We did not ask you for comment. The Sentinel-Record asked the mayor, an elected public official, not a hired public servant, for comment. And we’re still waiting. To Mayor McCabe, consider this a renewal of that request for comment by our reporter.

Last month, when asked about an offer a developer said was made for the Majestic Hotel site at a meeting with Mayor McCabe and city officials last summer, McCabe had City Hall hand deliver a letter signed by him, Burrough and City Attorney Brian Albright.

Also troubling is Mayor McCabe, without offering testimony other than his own words or supporting documentation, said during the workshop that “We,” without specifying who “we” are, “received a complaint from a city inspector. The last line tells it all: ‘An inspector cannot perform her responsibilities in an atmosphere of hostility and perceived threats to personal security.'”

Mayor McCabe said the inspector accused Director Beard of intimidation.

A few days later, The Sentinel-Record published a letter to the editor from David Bell, a Greenbriar Apartment resident, that disputed that version of events. The letter was co-signed by four other tenants who claimed to be eyewitnesses to the event in question; as far as we know, Mayor McCabe was not a witness to the events he described. Nor has anyone contacted The Sentinel-Record disputing Mr. Bell’s version of events.

“While Ms. Beard was visiting tenants, none of us saw her interacting with a city official. She was too busy listening to our problems,” Bell’s letter stated.

“We do not appreciate the city board or any city employee using our personal crisis as an opportunity to throw political shade and personally attack the only supportive city director trying to help us,” Bell concluded.

In the mayor’s own words, “It’s imperative that when we give a quote, it’s an accurate quote.”

When we can get one.

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