Another 'she said, he said'

By Reade Brower | Feb 13, 2014

“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.” — Claude Monet, painter (1840-1926)

Another “she said, he said” has hit the papers. As one was settled, another one came in to take its place.

Although people may think otherwise, I find out about stories the same way most of our readers do, when I look online to VillageSoup or read it in the newspaper. Occasionally I get a “heads-up” if the person in the story might be someone I know. This is only so I don’t get “blind-sided” by an angry phone call. I am never brought into the “should we or shouldn’t we” run the story conversation.

That is simply not my job, nor do I want to cut the legs out from under a management team that has been trusted to use tried-and-true newspaper policies to determine whether a story is news.

I explain this only as a prelude. I write this column as a reader, not as someone “in the know,” or as an editorial. This is simply my opinion and my observations.

The first story occurred about six weeks ago and involved a Camden store owner, who was accused of using a racial slur. The case was investigated by Camden Police who turned the information over to the Attorney General’s Office in Augusta. The case was dropped this week for lack of evidence. The store owner went through a lot of turmoil and a toll taken on his personal and business life that will take some time to get over. The accuser walks away pretty much unscathed.

The most recent story involves local hotel owners, who have been accused of violating human rights. Having my own personal experiences with a human rights complaint, documented in these papers about a year ago, I understand and empathize with them.

I read our story and I appreciated the owners sharing their side with the newspaper readers on our VillageSoup site. The story in the newspaper gave me a good sense of what happened and allowed me to make up my own mind as a reader.

It is difficult for the innkeepers because they are, like the Camden store owner, forced into a position to try and prove a negative, that they didn't do something.

I came away wondering what the motivation for the complaint is; I get the sense that the innkeepers did everything possible to comply with the law, and, specifically, they tried their best to satisfy a customer who could never be satisfied.

The problem with this case is that the accuser walks away while the accused must now defend themselves, at their own expense. Even if found not to be guilty, they will rack up good-sized attorney fees.

While I wonder what the motivation of the accuser might be, I also wonder what the Human Rights Commission wants out of this. Does it want to teach or punish? Does it want to work with the business community, or does it want to justify its existence?

I guarantee you that when OSHA or the Human Rights Commission or any police officer follows you around, they will find a violation in the letter of the law. Laws are just too complicated for that not to happen. I would bet that if I followed you around in your car any morning on your way to work I would find you rolling through a stop sign, inattentive at some point with your phone, going at least one mile an hour over the speed limit, or perhaps find a taillight out or an inspection sticker overdue.

The point is, do the authorities need to write up every violation, or do we need to look at the spirit of the law and use common sense to determine the next step and always look at teaching before punishing?

From what I read, this is a real travesty, and the goal does not appear to be to help the innkeepers do a better job complying with handicap laws; it is obvious to me that they would comply in a heartbeat to any reasonable request to fix something, change something, or improve something.

Instead, they get their names in the paper and now must fight to protect their reputation. What a shame.

That said, without newspapers reporting the facts of a story, we hang our hat on gossip or the cowboy justice of social media. Newspapers give us a credible way of sorting out fact from fiction with integrity.

I have always thought that one way to level the playing field in cases like this is for the loser to pay for all attorneys fees. I recognize that there is a big hole in this solution, but I also know if there were consequences to accusations, perhaps there would be more thought put into them.

I got some heat a few columns ago when I suggested both sides in a “she said, he said” take lie detector tests, but I will take a few more lumps when I repeat that if an accuser and the accused were asked to take a lie detector test, it might prevent some of the injustice that occurs.

Our government in action

I was at the State House last week and got to see government in action. I’m not sure that it could really be described as “in action”; perhaps more “inaction” as nothing much really happened.

I do applaud our state legislators for their diligence. I sat through a working session, and the five bills they considered prompted questions I saw as being pertinent, but, in the end, they were irrelevant because the bills were killed in committee. They were deemed unnecessary because they were already on the books.

It made me wonder how they got to the tax committee in the first place.

When the bill I was interested in finally came up, after a break for lunch, my attention perked up a notch. The legislation on the table was to correct an “unintended tax consequence” to free newspapers and advertising circulars from last year’s budget negotiation.

Their intention was to put a tax on consumers when they bought a newspaper, magazine or online subscription. They then eliminated the statute that "exempted publications" from sales tax. When they did that, it took away the exemption that also existed on the printing of free newspapers and advertising circulars.

None of the legislators knew this was a consequence of stripping the exemption until it was too late and the "horse was out of the barn."

With both sides of the aisle, and the governor, committed to fixing this, it seemed like this should pass through committee without much discussion.

In a sense, that’s what happened. The only glitch is that they attached a “fiscal note” to it. Even though it was an unintended consequence, and the monies were never in the original forecast, the fact the exemption was taken away meant that legally a new tax was created in October and needed to be accounted for by our Maine Revenue Service.

Understandable, but unfortunate, because now the money has been added into the budget forecasts, and to remove the money from the budget will affect other things. So, even though it was unintended and not in the original budget, it had to be added because it is the “official” law until changed.

In the end, the committee voted 12 to 0 to recommend the fix to the unintended consequence, but it now must pass through the House and Senate, and then finally, because of the fiscal note, through the Appropriations Committee who can stop it, even if it is approved by both the House and the Senate.

I learned a lot today about how our state government works. It is a complicated process that, while sensible, does not have common sense as its backbone.

Onward!

Turn the Page. Peace out, Reade

Reade Brower can be reached at: reade@freepressonline.com.

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