ITHACA, N.Y. — I was going to write an editorial about the Tompkins County Democrats this week and it was not going to be nice. But this is not that editorial.
The editorial I wrote in my mind over the weekend slammed the Democrats for initially not allowing journalists into a Tompkins County Democratic Committee Listening Meeting that’s supposed to happen Saturday.
The meeting, according to a news release, is meant for Democrats to offer brief, practical suggestions about what they want to see happen within the party in 2017. People who attend and participate will be able to take part in shaping the gameplan for Tompkins County Democrats in 2017.
In light of some heavy losses last election season for the Democrats — particularly Hillary Clinton losing to Donald Trump in the presidential race, but also Leslie Danks Burke losing to Republican Senator Tom O’Mara and John Plumb losing to Republican Congressman Tom Reed — it is a heck of an important meeting for anyone interested in local politics. The local interest also makes it important to journalists.
But there was a catch to any coverage the media might have been planning.
At the end of the press release was the following sentence:
Media are welcome as participants, but no reporting will be allowed, as the committee would like people to feel comfortable, unjudged, and heard rather than publicized.
Frankly, that’s unprecedented for a meeting being billed as a public meeting.
The lack of transparency was a difficult pill to try to try to swallow, especially in light of a recent antagonistic attitude toward media by President Trump and his administration. So we, at The Ithaca Voice, decided that we were not going to swallow that pill. We pushed back.
There was some back and forth with committee, and I genuinely don’t believe that their goal was to do anything other than what they initially stated — they wanted to make people feel comfortable speaking out about political issues.
But the committee’s good intentions don’t change the fact that the public deserves three basic things:
- They deserve to know what happens at the meeting.
- They deserve to publicly have their ideas recognized or grievances aired.
- They deserve for the meeting to be on the record in a formal way and recorded by a non-biased third-party.
Now, as I initially said, I was willing to go to war to fight for the media’s right to cover the meeting. But I didn’t make it that far.
I exchanged a few emails with media spokesperson Kathy Zahler, pointing out The Voice’s stance on the issue. I admit things got a bit testy during the exchanges.
But then the Democrats essentially just changed the policy. They are allowing in the journalists in the meeting and asking that interviews be conducted afterward — which makes sense because that’s generally how reporters cover meetings anyway.
In an email, Zahler welcomed media and said, “Thanks for staying with us as we struggle through this new era.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Reporting should never have been banned from the meeting in the first place. But the Democrats were willing to have a conversation about the issue and they recognized that keeping the press from reporting on the meeting did not behoove the public.
This is what open government looks like: disagreement, conversation and deciding that it’s possible to bend and not break.
Kudos to the Tompkins County Democrats for making the change.
If you plan to go to the meeting, it’s happening from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Borg Warner Room of the Tompkins County Public Library.
We’ll be there.
Featured photo courtesy of Flickr.