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Response to Lakeland Currents "Investigation" Featured

Response to Lakeland Currents May 10, 2019 article:


The Society of Professional Journalism has declared a number of principles as foundational for ethical journalism.

Does Currents violate these basic principles of ethical journalism?

Let’s see: 

  • Do they seek to be accurate and fair?
  • Do they always verify information?
  • Do they take special care not to oversimplify or misrepresent in promoting a story?
  • Are they vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable?
  • Do they identify advocacy and commentary as opinion when applicable?
  • Do they weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information?
  • Do they deny special treatment to special interests?
  • Do they respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness?

You decide. Read on.  

  1. At the top of their May 10, 2019 article, they say,

“A month after the accusation, no information available.”

—Maybe that’s because there is no information available during an ongoing investigation? Also they are leading you to believe there is something wrong with this scenerio. Is a typical complaint / investigation and report written in 30 days? No. 

  1. They ask these rhetorical, one-sided questions:

“Is his statement impacting economic growth in the City?  Will it affect funding a high school for the City through a CON?  Do home buyers look elsewhere because of the controversy in Lakeland?   What is the scope of the Mayor’s accusation of financial anomalies?”

—-People are tired of fake news. And they’re tired of “news” organizations dodging responsibility for the misleading information they regularly publish, including information framed in a way as to avoid accountability. 

  1. They report, “In an online search performed nearly a month after the Mayor’s announcement (search performed on May 9, 2019), there is no mention of the City Lakeland on the Comptroller’s site listing investigations.   Link: https://www.comptroller.tn.gov/office-functions/investigations/find.html”.

—You would think a seasoned news source would do a bit of research before posting this clearly biased and misleading statement, wouldn’t you? A quick phone call to the Comptroller’s office’s Investigative section (phone number found on the ‘contact us’ link of their webpage) yielded the following truth:

Only completed investigations are listed. 

  1. They continue, “Via FOI (Freedom of Information) forms, Lakeland Currents obtained copies of document requests, seeking to learn which records were requested, who searched archives of City and School System and for what period of time.” The newspaper goes on to identify the individual citizens who submitted perfectly legal freedom of information requests as well as those who made contributions to Mayor Cunningham’s and Commissioner Gonzales’ political campaigns. They label this as “perhaps coincidental”.

— Targeting and identifying individuals this way and implying some sort of a conspiracy or collusion should be beneath a legitimate publication, shouldn’t it? 

  1. Continuing, they report: “With City and School staff broadly implicated in the financial anomalies allegations, Mr. Horn was asked the impact on employees and their ability to perform their daily duties. “I am blessed to work along-side an outstanding group of Lakeland employees who are dedicated and professional in carrying out the responsibilities of their respective jobs, we will remain consistent and focused on providing essential services to the residents of Lakeland.”

— Was the newspaper trying to get the city manager to declare that the citizens’ freedom of information requests impacted the city’s employees negatively? Maybe. But the city manager did not give them the answer they were looking for. 

  1. The paper found one city employee (who understandably did not go on record) who said he was concerned that some staff my leave because of the investigation the mayor initiated when he found anomalies.

—One wonders how hard the newspaper looked for an employee who felt differently. 

  1. Another story line is: “Some kept in the dark about anomalies and audit”.

— Even the city attorney declined to comment on this implication of impropriety. 

  1. Another rhetorical question was asked: “Was there a Tennessee sunshine law violation?” They proceed to report on the question posed by outgoing, soon to be Germantown resident school board member Geoffrey Hicks during the meeting. State law is quoted, “The statute declares that a meeting occurs whenever a public body convenes for one of two purposes: to make a decision or to deliberate toward a decision.”

— So the state law speaks of incidents where a decision is made or deliberated. Think about this. The mayor sees evidence he believes to be anomalous. Regardless of who he included in his decision to report to the state comptroller, the only decision or deliberation toward a decision that was made was the decision TO REPORT. No decisions that impact the city operation were made.

Remember also, at this very meeting, Commissioners Roman, Wright, and Dial all voted to change the public discussion section of the commissioners’ meeting standard agenda to ONLY allow for public comment, no discussion, so no one should be surprised that Hicks didn’t receive a response from the bench. 

  1. Yet another rhetorical question was reported, “Are the records searches and allegations to the State a ruse to stop funding and building for a high school in Lakeland?”. The Vice Mayor is interviewed and he believes this is true.

— Were members of the board who would undoubtedly provide differing opinions asked this leading question? 

  1. One more rhetorical question was posed, “Have procedures been properly followed?”. The unattributed writer continues by referencing the city charter’s anti-fraud policy.

— The first question one employing critical thinking techniques might consider is, “Who could see into the mind of the mayor when he saw anomalous information to know whether he considered it to be ‘fraud’”?  Was there even a city attorney on staff at the time? Perhaps the mayor just did what he believed to be proper and in the best interest of the city by reporting the information to the state comptroller.  Is that possible? 

  1. The article concludes with a quote from Commissioner Wright, “The Mayor’s actions do not instill confidence in investors or citizens.”

— Sigh. Yet another example of one-sided interviewing and reporting that does not seek accuracy nor fairness. 

You have to wonder:

Do the unidentified people writing articles for Lakeland Currents really care about the truth? 

Or are they a part of the massive misinformation campaign fueling the growing divide within our city?




Susie Richardson

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