Westerly Town Councilors Jack Carson and Ed Morrone didn’t submit a performance review of Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy by the agreed upon due date and councilor Karen Cioffi didn’t think taxpayers deserved to know that.
So she criticized our reporter, from the council dais, for reporting the facts.
“Shame on you,” she repeated a few times during Monday night’s meeting as she referred to the news story while staring at our reporter.
Shame on him for doing his job by asking a basic question? It would have been considered a mistake had he not asked it. We aren’t a PR agency for the town. We’re here to inform taxpayers in an objective manner about what their elected representatives are doing with their money and how they’re running the town.
Reporters don’t make news. They report it. They don’t speak at the podium, but report what is said at the podium. It is not their place to engage in back and forth discussion with those they are covering while in the midst of covering an event. And a professional reporter won’t respond even when taunted in a public session they are covering.
There’s a fine line to be sure. Elected officials certainly have every right to criticize the media just as editorial writers are free to weigh in on the actions of elected officials. But news stories are not editorials and reporters are not editorial writers. To slam the organization is one thing, but to attack a reporter in public session from the dais for reporting the news is unprofessional and simply bad form.
Carson and Morrone were identified because councilor Mario Celico, who at the time was leading the council, made reference in public session to two missing evaluations. He did not indicate during the meeting which two councilors had failed to turn in their reviews. But it begged asking. So after the meeting the question was posed and answered, as was appropriate.
In a related situation, Councilor Bill Aiello submitted his review to the HR director hours before the council was scheduled to discuss the reviews with the manager. The HR director turned it over to Celico as part of the package of reviews from councilors and Town Hall staff as planned. Carson said the handoff of a single review tainted the process by identifying the author to Celico and giving him access to it.
We all have learned since, based on our reporting, that the evaluations were not submitted because after agreeing to a process that called for the town’s human resources director to collect the reviews, some on the council didn’t trust the process late in the game. So they didn’t play by the rules they had agreed to. And in reasoning that defies logic, Carson said he was vindicated for not submitting an evaluation to HR since the Aiello review handoff proved the process was “politicized” in his words. Should Celico have declined to include it in the packet because it was late? No.
The council’s dysfunction has sunk to a new low and it’s taking any semblance of professionalism with it.