Undue and Inappropriate Influence

 ”I frankly didn’t think it was very accurate…. I didn’t see any value in communicating that editorial opinion.”  – Assistant City Manager Mitch Johnson’s answer to the 2/13/04 N&R reporter’s question as to why the 6/9/03 structural report on War Memorial Stadium had not been made public.

As suspected last month, we now find that the original report was not an “editorial opinion”.  

It now appears that the outcome of the October baseball stadium referendum was manipulated by a supposedly neutral City Manager’s office through the withholding of important information that had a direct bearing on the issue.  According to Johnson, the “Phase II” (pdf file) structural report was supposed to paint a decidedly rosier picture of the condition of War Memorial Stadium than the 2003 assessment… but it does not…  in fact it reinforces the original assessment.  The “Phase II” report simply recommends temporary repairs for the “safe, short-term operation of the stadium.” 

In other words, it will cost the taxpayers only $10,000 to keep WMS from falling down on Bats fans during the team’s last season in the nation’s oldest, continuously operating, minor league baseball stadium… after that, WMS will have to fend for itself.

The debate over whether or not stadia should be banned in Greensboro’s central business district was about more than just the fate of War Memorial Stadium, but central to the arguments (from both sides) was whether or not the 1926 stadium would be neglected further or, except for the facade, demolished. 

While it is impossible to determine how the structural report might have affected the outcome of the stadium vote, such uncertainty cannot discount the fact that if the report had been released it might have changed the vote.  The City Manager’s office should be condemned by our City Council for directing public policy through the controlling of what information some of their number, and none of the citizens, were privy to.

Time after time in the months leading up to the referendum new stadium boosters assured voters that there were no plans to demolish the old stadium and that it would be taken care of.   Taxpayer funded publications (.jpg, GCVBureau page 3) were dissiminated in part to allay fears about WMS’s future and all such arguments were dismissed by many elected officials and a political action committee that gleefully labeled anyone who harbored such concerns as naysayers.  Turns out, the “naysayers” had been vindicated on that emotional point four months before the referendum but the City withheld evidence that actually proved that vindication.

Why wasn’t the information released?  Who’s decision was it to squelch a report that would certainly have had an impact on at least someone’s vote?  For what reason?  At who’s direction?  

Who, besides me, is sick of this crap?

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