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October 22, 2008 - 12:44pm

Batavia Daily News for Wednesday: County budget is a big wait and see

posted by Philip Anselmo in Daily News, budget, genesee county legislature.

Genesee County Legislature Chair Mary Pat Hancock cautioned that the proposed county budget that was filed yesterday "gives a whole new meaning to the word 'tentative'," according to the Daily News. Hancock told reporter Paul Mrozek that so much hinges on what will happen at the state level—"Will there be mandate relief? Will there be mandates that are unfunded?"—that it's tough to say just what the county can afford.

That means the legislature will likely wait until December to vote on the budget, hoping that at least some answers will come from Albany by then. For more details on the budget, check out our post on Mrozek's story from yesterday.


In other news, Virginia Kropf has an interesting article in today's paper. She writes:

I just want to sound off about people who hang up on me when I call about a story. It has happened several times lately and I find it hard to understand. It seems people (and businesses) want the publicity when things are good, but think the public is not entitled to the news when it's not so good.

Kropf then recounts a couple particular instances, such as when she tried to inquire about the rumors that Pizza Hut was planning to close some of its area restaurants, and she was told by a fellow at the district office that "he had no idea what (she) was talking about"—and then he hung up on her.

It's fine, writes Kropf, if someone "can't comment now," but "don't hang up on us." That seems like a fair enough request. But it also seems like par for the course for any reporter who is digging in someone's dirty laundry pile—a real complement for any journalist of the investigative stripe.

What do you think? Do reporters deserve more courtesy? What about the other glaring issue here: folks did not only hang up on Kropf, they flat out lied to her? Sure, the fellow at Pizza Hut's district headquarters may have been rude in hanging up the telephone instead of answering Kropf's question. But what about the big fat lie that he didn't know what was going on. Listen to what Kropf says here:

I mentioned I had seen a sign on the counter of the Albion store which read, "Due to our closing, we are out of the following..." He told me it was news to him and he guessed he'd have to call and tell them to take it down.

Then, the very next day, Pizza Hut issued a news release about the closing of the stores. So why lie? Is this a simple case of a hush-hush corporate policy getting tangled up in a situation that no one can deny?

One thing is for sure: I can sympathize with Kropf. As a reporter, I've had a few phones slammed in my ear—often to the great delight of the other person.

But it's going to happen.

Let's now have a talk about our rights as "the" public. As Kropf says, the same folks who seek out press coverage of their goodness will often nevertheless act as if "the public is not entitled to the news when it's not so good." So, what are we entitled to? Do we deserve to know that Pizza Hut is closing? The employees certainly should. But do we? If we call to ask, can the management just tell us to buzz off?

What about the time I called Ponderosa to ask about a recent burglary and I was told that there was no burglary only to read the next day in the paper that there was, in fact, a burglary? Should they have told me the truth? Are they required to talk to me at all?

Where is the line drawn for what the public deserves to know? Or how about we start with this: what does the public "want" to know?

We encourage you to pick up a copy of the Daily News at your local newsstand. Or, better yet, subscribe at BataviaNews.com.

Kelly Hansen
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Whatever happened to the words, "No comment"? I'd rather be known for having been discrete yet respectful than a liar clouded in rudeness.
Philip Anselmo
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That's what I'm saying! Virginia, too, I think. Would you say there is ever a time when "No comment" is not good enough? Is anyone ever required to comment?
Howard B. Owens
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As a matter of legality and constitutionality, anybody can refuse comment at any time. And a person can refuse, for any reason, not to talk to all reporters all the time. Even public officials, so long as they are treating all media equally. What a public official can't do is talk with one reporter and refuse to talk to another reporter, or talk with one reporter freely, but require an appointment for another reporter (there is case law on this). Private individuals -- even corporate PR people and general managers -- can do whatever they like. That's one thing that has always made it harder to be a business reporter than a city government reporter. There are not any real requirements for business people to talk with reporters. In fact, for publicly traded companies, there are actual legal restrictions on many types of communication. Government officials have various disclosure laws and supporting court cases to contend with that compel more transparency. And that's probably as it should be, on both sides. That said, lying is never the appropriate response. It's very easy to give a polite "no comment," as in, "Gee, I know you've got a job to do, but I'm just not interested in commenting on this." That may not be the best PR tact, nor in the best interest of the public, but perfectly legal and I would hesitate to call it unethical. Outright lies, of course, are always unethical.
Daniel Jones
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Perhaps Jay Grasso or someone else could answer this, but is there an estimate of how much money the City/County consolidation would save the county?
Bea McManis
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Virginia is an excellent reporter as are many in the print media. I can sympathize with her need to get the story and certainly understand her frustration when she is given the runaround. Most companies require their employees (salaried and exempt) to sign non-disclosure documents. Any comments come from designated personnel. Attempting to get information from someone not authorized to offer comments is frustrating. This is a situation not covered in orientation, and it should be. The simple answer, from someone who knows that they aren't authorized to speak to the media, is "I'm sorry, I am not able to comment on this". They could direct the reporter to someone who IS authorized. I wonder how many companies cover this? Do they take the time to do a little role playing with their employees so that they are comfortable when approached by the media; an inspector; or an auditor? Someone working a reception desk, or a front counter is normally not the person who can relay this information yet, because they are the 'face' of the company, they are the first approached. Non-disclosure is an absolute and sometimes it seems contrary to what information the company freely offers. For example, I worked for a company that had a strict non-disclosure policy. I could not give you a list of our clients based on that policy. However, if you went to the company's website or received any written information regarding the company, the list of clients is there for all to see. Even though I retired from that company in Feb. of this year, I am bound by that policy for the next five years. I can tell you that clients were major cable news networks, but I can't tell you which ones. However, they are listed on the company's website. Another company for whom I worked also had a non-disclosure policy and I am still bound by that contract. This company has released news items regarding products soon to hit the market, but I will never be able to say I worked on those projects until the time limit is expired. Once again, those products have been heralded in news releases and published in trade journals. Go figure! So, if Virginia or anyone else approached me, I would have to issue a "no comment" regardless of what information I had. I only hope that whomever needed the information wouldn't consider me rude for not providing it.
Howard B. Owens
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This just reminds me of how we were ordered in the military to answer with a firm "I don't know" if ever asked by any person -- mother, brother or Soviet spy -- if there were nuclear weapons stored on our base. "I don't know." I believe to this day I am legally, if not ethically, bound to give that answer for any such question about any base I spent time on. I can't even tell you if "I don't know" was ever an honest answer. "I don't know."
Daniel Jones
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No comment in this country has become an admission of guilt, thats a shame, its driving good people out of politics.

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