Perceptions should be taken seriously

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2005

&uot;That was the only reason I read the paper.&uot;

&uot;Now city hall’s will be the only opinion anyone will ever hear.&uot;

&uot;I’m sure the city manager is in his office this morning dancing.&uot;

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Those are among the comments I received last week in the wake of my decision to withhold publication of Roger Leonard’s op-ed columns.

A little background may be order for some folks. Mr. Leonard writes a column for the News-Herald every Tuesday that focuses on the actions of city government. The column is almost always critical of some action city government has taken.

When the News-Herald confirmed Monday that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office was &uot;looking into&uot;

the city’s Requests for Proposals process and that the &uot;looking-into&uot; was prompted by a request from Mr. Leonard, I decided to cease running his column until the matter was resolved.

Mr. Leonard claims that because of his criticism of the city in his newspaper column and at city council meetings, the city is discriminating against him with regard to a RFP he has with the city. The RFP involves Mr. Leonard’s expanding his business at the Suffolk Executive Airport and has apparently been languishing in limbo for nearly a year. In his complaint to the commonwealth’s attorney, he contrasts that with the apparent urgency with which city government seems intent on moving on the more complex and controversial RFP regarding the sale of the Jefferson School to developer Mickey Garcia.

We have positioned Mr. Leonard as a city government analyst of sorts, and as such, any commentary on the city, I thought, could be viewed as tainted while his personal RFP situation is unresolved.

This should not be seen as a criticism of Mr. Leonard for his actions. He has a legitimate concern that his rights are not being respected or protected by his government as forcefully as they might or even should be. As such, he has every right to do everything he can within the law to see to it that they are. I encourage him to do so and would hope anyone would do the same were they in his situation.

While his primary concerns are with his rights and his business, as they should be, our primary concern is the credibility of our opinion page, which we cannot allow to be compromised or impugned by even a hint of personal bias.

It was not an easy decision, nor one I took lightly. I contacted editors of four other newspapers whose opinions I respect. After hearing the scenario, all said were it their decision, they would not publish the column.

While that made me more comfortable with the decision, that doesn’t mean anything to fans of Mr. Leonard, who I have since found are many.

I hope the city and Mr. Leonard can quickly come to agreement on the matter of his RFP, not just so that he can start writing for the paper again, but so that everyone has the proper perception about city government as well.

The city’s situation on this matter is not dissimilar to that of the News-Herald. Regardless of what they say the reasons are for the delay on Mr. Leonard’s RFP – even if those reasons are true, as I assume they are – it looks bad.

That’s something about which city council and city management should be concerned, regardless of whether its position is not illegal. Perceptions are important and the city should take them seriously too.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611 or at