Common sense approaches to complex issues

By Reade Brower | Jan 15, 2014

"When in doubt, bet on the truth. When in more doubt, bet on more truth. The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable." — Two proverbs used at Hyde School, Bath.

She said, he said

Being a newspaper owner has its tougher moments. Often, when a police report is filed, and a story involves a local businessman or perhaps a friend, you can get caught in the cross fire. Though you may be sympathetic or even understand that it could derail someone in a fragile state of mind or affect their business, or forever alter their reputation, you must be consistent in your treatment of them, and how you report on the incident or story at hand.

I am the custodian, and the buck stops here, but I am not a “day-to-day” person. Our management staff is in charge of making the hard decisions that steer the day-to-day, but also set up the policies that will guide those decisions and keep them consistent one week to the next.

Last Friday it was reported in Knox County VillageSoup that a police report had been filed charging that a well-known business owner had used inappropriate language in front of a woman, her son, and her son’s father. The person who made the accusation said that the account of the incident she posted on Facebook is what she submitted as a report to the Camden Police.

When a police report is filed, or a charge is made, it becomes part of the public record and this newspaper then prints it. The newspaper then decides whether it needs to be expanded into a news story. This is where the rub comes in.

If this was one neighbor to another, it probably isn’t a news story. However, when it involves a public figure or a well-known person around town, it elevates our responsibility to report on it.

For me, this is where the pedal hits the metal and the rubber hits the road. I think it is from Spiderman comics where Peter Parker is told that “with great power, comes great responsibility” and that is why newspapers, like this one, take these kinds of situations very seriously.

In this case, the police report states that the store owner verbally assaulted a man who was relieving himself in the back of his building. This alleged verbal abuse included disparaging remarks with some racial slurs. The newspaper reported what the police report said and asked the store owner for a response.

For the newspaper, this follows the mandated policies and I think it is fair to all parties. With Facebook and modern media, this was already circulating and cowboy justice was being served.

On the other hand, the newspapers' responsibility is to present the facts, and then let the story play out, and then report some more facts if indeed the story has more that needs to be told.

Here is where I find the real injustice. We all know what the accuser has to say, and that is fair. However, with the accused, the label will stick, no matter what level of guilt, or full innocence there is in the matter. Once it is out there, it is forever labeling you.

And, most probably you don’t want to talk about it; you just want it to go away! As the accused, you are in a very tough spot.

In the end, this is a “she said, he said” storyline. We have our accusers saying he said this, we have our business owner denying it. One thing is clear on each side, there was urination happening on private property, and the store owner was very angry. What was specifically said is clear as mud because no other witnesses have surfaced.

I don’t know the accusers and have looked at the Facebook posts. I am familiar with the store owner and I know he is a hard worker and his store is very important to him. I believe that each person reading the story will make up their own mind and that it is the newspapers job to report on what they find, not to speculate.

Here is my “common sense” solution for the “she said, he said” dramas like this — lie detector tests.

I would challenge (and this newspaper will pay for them) both the accusers and the accused to take a lie detector test. The results would be made public and we could then move forward with some kind of resolution. I’ll let you know if either party reaches out to accept this offer.

My quote at the top of the column reminds me of a former Hyde student who lied, and later admitted to the lie. I am probably getting some of the facts wrong but the gist of what went down is as follows:

It was a very serious accusation: as a teenage girl she was babysitting and then later accused the neighbor parent of making unwanted physical advances toward her. The matter became public and the accused, denying it vigorously, hired an attorney to defend himself. I do not remember how this was resolved, but I do know that it probably sullied the neighbor’s reputation. He was forever after known as the creepy neighbor or that guy accused of accosting a babysitter. Who knows what toll it took on his marriage or the relationship he had with his own children.

The story took a twist about 10 years after the incident when the now young woman came forward, in private, to apologize to her neighbor, who had moved because of this, and asked him for forgiveness and wanted to reimburse him for his legal expenses. She told him that her 16-year old self was just looking for attention and that she needed him to know how remorseful she was.

He told her that his legal expenses were about $3,000. As she got out her checkbook, he stopped her and said; “I don’t want a check from you today. I want you to send me $300 a year, for the next 10 years, to remind yourself of the hell you put me through.” He ended with; “I forgive you, but I need you to walk through a little bit of hell with me.”

RSU 13

Will the nonsense ever end? Wow, this story has some legs as well as some twists and turns. It might be great for the newspaper business, but not so for the students and parents living in this school district.

The water cooler stories surrounding the severance package given to Superintendent Lew Collins have been interesting. Some of my associates have suggested they will resign if I pay them for one year, of course including full health benefits, and tack on their vacation and personal days to boot. As the final topper, this associate, who says they don’t get enough support from me or their managers, and blames everyone but himself for his overall ineffectiveness, wants me to give them a letter of recommendation. Really? And in case the letter doesn’t work, I need to promise not to challenge any unemployment claims in 2015.

What does Mr. Collins have on the school board that would make them consider such an outrageous exit package? I have no more info than you, our reader, but will say that if I were King of the Land, I would start over and ask the entire school board to resign as well; perhaps with the exception of the two who voted against settling this affair. Perhaps it was prudency or fear of reprisal that made this a good deal for us taxpayers, but how can you expect integrity out, when you don’t get integrity in?

If we don’t stand up for what’s right, even if it is disguised and labeled as prudent, how can we expect the change needs to happen? The men and women who serve RSU 13 must not be afraid of a fight, especially if they have “right” on their side of ledger.

First off, the Collins contract is through the end of June. If you mutually agree that you can’t move forward, I could perhaps accept the common sense approach that you will work until Feb. 15 and then leave. I can also accept that I signed a contract with you that I need to stand behind. On Feb. 15, your vacation pay and personal days would begin until they run out and then I will pay you for the rest of the contracted period, including health benefits. I will not give you a letter of recommendation, but I will agree to a mutual “no comment” when asked why you resigned, and I would expect the same “no comment” from you. I might even agree that I won’t contest your unemployment; even though you resigned, since we both agreed that worked in the best interest of the people we both serve.

This is where it starts and ends for me. No further negotiation. If you don’t like this play book, how about working through your contracted date. I’m sure that, with all the budget problems we have in the cafeteria we can put you to work there. I understand that your area of expertise is special education; perhaps you could save us some budget money in that department and work as a teacher or as a teacher’s aide.

Mr. Collins, you need to work through your contracted period because this fight and difference of opinion and philosophy is spearheaded by the difficult budgetary issues we’re facing and paying for two superintendents in 2014 will prove expensive and perhaps untenable. It will take away and add to our educational woes in RSU 13.

Let’s keep our kids interest first and education of them paramount. My “common sense” mandated approach to fixing this type of problem; let’s all agree to a binding arbitration process that allows us to negotiate and then move forward with common sense approaches under the guidance of an arbitrator with some power. Arbitration is always cheaper and quicker than legal actions and having someone, agreed on by both sides, finding the middle ground, is the prudent way to keep this about the children and not about the adults and the sandboxes they are now playing in.

Turn the Page. Peace out; Reade

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

Comments (1)
Posted by: Kathleen D Daley | Jan 16, 2014 10:06

As it relates to Reade's comments on RSU 13's problems, I agree with him especially after reading Brian Messing's comments. I believe we need to hire a new business manager, fire the school board and elect all new members and begin anew. I also agree with Reade that Lew Collins must do the morally right thing and finish his contract. Perhaps a new board might even make it worth his while to continue for at least one more year, and give the parents, students and taxpayers one more chance.  We were totally unaware of all the facts through no fault of our own.  As a result the citizens of the RSU13 district are the true victims not Mr Collins. I understand his frustration and anger, but we pay for his negotiated settlement out of our pockets, when we are, I repeat, the true victims in so many ways. We have been very poorly, and I might add childishly served by our school board with the exception of a couple of members, who were apparently totally ignored by their fellow members.

Can't we be adults here and start again?! An arbitrator is a good idea!



If you wish to comment, please login.