Monday, June 21, 2010

Departing editor spanks local officials in print, says she's been doing it for years

Samantha Swindler is leaving her job as managing editor of the Corbin Times-Tribune in southeastern Kentucky to become general manager of the Tillamook Headlight-Herald on the Oregon coast, west of Portland. She will leave behind a strong four-year record of holding accountable local officials who often view their public offices as private possessions, and she delivered an exclamation point of sorts over the weekend with a column that dressed down the leaders of the town of 8,000.

The column began, "I wasn’t particularly surprised with how Corbin city commissioners voted Monday night because, like all major decisions, it was made long before the public meeting." Having implicitly asserted that the commission routinely violates the state Open Meetings Act, Swindler then pulled up the rope that city officals provided for their own hanging, not on issues of legality but of courtesy and public policy.

"What was surprising is how the commissioners and city manager reacted when a room full of citizens and business owners came to participate in the democratic process," specifically to object to making the city's Main Street program manager part time, "ensuring [she] will be forced to find another job," Swindler wrote. "In a town where so much government goes wrong, her program and minimal budget actually produced results for the community." The city manager dismissed the speakers, eventually saying “I’m through.”

As for the reason cited for the cut, a tight budget, Swindler suggested the commission wasted money by giving $50,000 to the local economic-development agency, "an organization which, for the life of me, I can find no reason for its existence. ... The members of those boards don’t even know what the director is working on because of “confidentiality” of potential businesses. The director’s reports are notoriously vague and don’t even offer the slightest hint of what we might be getting for his $78,000 salary. ... Economic development isn’t just about luring in a 100-person factory every five years. It’s also about improving the community to make it attractive to both potential businesses and tourists," in the town where Col. Harland Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In closing, Swindler noted the prospect of an uncontested election for the city commission this fall. "If you’re not happy with those choices, I suggest someone start a write-in candidate campaign and challenge those who, occasionally, ought to be challenged. Because we really need a new kind of politics here." (Read more)

We asked Swindler if she was less inhibited with the editorial because she is leaving town. She replied, "I was careful not to write anything that I wouldn't be proud to stand behind long-term. I didn't want to do one of those angry, finger-wagging, 'and another thing...' going-away columns that comes across as bitter. I tried to make it a positive piece, at least in the aspect of creating community through Main Street. But that economic development agency? That's a darn joke. I've written stuff about them before ... and I've been writing columns like that for years. That stuff needed to be said, and I hope I said it strongly without coming across as simply spiteful." Tillamook's gain is Corbin's loss.


Anonymous said...

Love it, love it, love it!

Anonymous said...

Samantha Swindler is the best thing that's hit Corbin since Sanders! She will be deeply missed!

Al Cross said...

Randy Patrick posted this on Facebook and authorized us to post it here:
Excellent watchdog reporting in the form of a column! This is an example of why small communities will always need hometown newspapers. As Harry Truman said, you don't have to give 'em hell. Just tell the truth and they'll think it's hell."

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's Corbin's loss!!!
MANY of the city/county officials across our state and country think they are not accountable to the tax payers OR ANY supervisory boards. The newspapers should print the cold, hard facts.
Samantha Swindler read the local officials like a book. She printed the truth and RARELY do our small town reporters care about facts more than their popularity in the community. I have worked, volunteered and worshiped here for over fifty years.
Samantha's gain IS OUR COMMUNITY'S LOSS!!!

Harry said...

I wondered how long an intelligent, creative and progressive person like Samantha could endure the frozen time-frame that is Corbin. It has not changed or progressed during the 76 years I have known it and in some aspects in the last 100+ years. She made an effort and I have to believe that she did change the thinking of some citizens under the age of 25. She deserves a more ambitious and progressive place in which to work. I hope she has found it.