A tale of two investigations
The neighboring towns of Camden and Rockport both recently have been subjected to investigation of town employees but the processes as well as outcomes were vastly different.
We are not law enforcement officers and are not privy to any additional details of either investigation other than those published. We do not offer any speculation about the innocence or guilt of either town official, but wonder about the impact of each investigation upon the psyches of the officials as well as the public.
Camden's development director came under scrutiny for impersonating a state official via email last year and the investigation by Maine State Police was highly publicized. Yet, no charges were filed against him in the months following the investigation and the case was not pursued by the state district attorney's office. The conclusion for many, in this case, is that the infraction was minor.
In Rockport, the recent resignation of the town manager was the result of an investigation initiated by that town's select board. Now that the investigation has concluded, details of the infraction that led to the investigation remain shrouded in legal language and behind state statutes protecting specifics of personnel issues.The conclusion for many, in this case, is that the infraction was major.
Which method of investigation is better? It's not easy to say. Both investigations likely tarnished the professional reputations of those implicated, one by disclosing details of an alleged crime without charges and the other by seemingly keeping information from the public by remaining close-lipped leading to speculation about the reasons behind the town manager's resignation.
Don't forget the First Amendment in your zeal for the Second
Last week the Bangor Daily News sparked an outcry from Maine's gun rights advocates when it submitted a Freedom of Access Act request for information on concealed weapons permit holders.
On Feb. 19, a bill temporarily exempting that information from state laws requiring its disclosure passed easily in both chambers of the Legislature. The bill will keep information about concealed weapons permit holders private until April 30.
We agree that a wholesale disclosure of concealed permit holders should not take place and that would not be responsible journalism. The Bangor Daily News has stated that it did not intend to publish the information, and has since withdrawn its request.
This issue raises concerns, however. For the one of the largest newspapers in the state to make a freedom of access request on this scale and then cave into pressure it should have anticipated almost immediately sends the message that newspapers will back off of research and stories in the face of threatened boycotts and pressure from politicians.
How can we behave that way and serve in our role as watchdogs, here to hold the government accountable to the "we the people" so often mentioned in political discourse?
We would not have made that particular public request, but if the Bangor Daily News had a good journalistic reason for requesting the information that was public information at the time, it should have stuck to its guns, so to speak.
This legislative action is troubling as well. Does this set a precedent? Will the Legislature quickly move to block access to any public documents it does not want the press to publish?
As one respected colleague said on Facebook, "I think the First Amendment is just as important as the Second."
When the Bangor Daily News caves under this kind of pressure, it affects all of us in this business.
The anti-press sentiment by the governor and some other politicians has become nothing more than a bullying tactic. Sure, we have all seen abuses in the media. However, does anyone really want to live in a United States where the only information being disseminated either comes from state-run public relations departments and college kids and blowhards writing half truths on Twitter? Let's get real before we go after the seasoned professionals who put their names on what they write in print and allow themselves to be held accountable for their work.
Finally, how do you balance a law-abiding gun owner's right to privacy with the public's right to be informed about weapons in its midst? Should a woman be able to request information about weapons permits held by an abusive ex-husband? Should a retired police officer with a concealed weapon permit have his or her name kept confidential?
This is a difficult issue and one requiring plenty of time and debate.
While we agree that permit holders should have some right to privacy, we also hope the Legislature will keep open — in some way — the right of concerned citizens to find out who in their community might be carrying a concealed weapon.