Speak for yourself, CCSD

March 20, 2014 

The March 13 edition of The Cambrian contained proof positive underscoring the foolishness, if not stupidity, of the Cambria Community Services District decision to hire a spin puppet and flack catcher.

There in black and white were the words of CCSD General Manager Jerry Gruber. Considering how much of our money Gruber and his colleagues walk away with, he should be able to speak and write for himself on the critical matters facing Cambria. He and the elected board members should be available to answer any of our questions at any time. They work for us.

It goes beyond belief that Gruber, CCSD board members and, for that matter, any CCSD employee, is so busy, overloaded by complicated issues and the responsibilities of life that they can not be personally accountable for their actions and the reasons behind them. This is a village, smaller than many high schools, and if Mr. Gruber or the board members cannot take the time to be transparent, accessible and candid then his handsome salary is being wasted and the board members should be replaced.

In more than four decades of journalism I found that hired mouthpieces were more like weasels than carriers of truth and light. These flack catchers are installed to take the heat and build a layer of insulation between citizens or consumers and those who are supposed to be public servants. Hired mouths help craft “spin,” slicing and parsing truth to the advantage of their keepers. The public is not served. Those who use the puppets are, and in this case they intend to use our money to avoid direct contact with us on sensitive matters. Either you know your stuff, as an executive or an elected representative, or you don’t.

In preparing this piece I reached out to a wide range of people who have years of service to Cambria in elected, appointed, public service, research or advocacy roles. No one thought hiring a spokes-puppet was a good idea. Everyone thought it was a waste of money.

There were also concerns voiced about the man hired. Voters rejected him when he ran for CCSD. That isn’t an automatic disqualifier, but let’s say he’s not the most popular guy with many who travel in the North Coast Advisory Council, CCSD, and public advocacy circles. Maybe it’s not him, perhaps it’s the other folks, but he’s considered controversial and a verbal battler.

Some of those I heard from might also have that reputation. Is that the kind of person the public should be linked to on what Director Gail Robinette called “misconceptions, rumor, challenges” and the other controversies?

In a time of crisis, as many citizens question the actions of this and past CCSD boards, while our general manager and other executives are among the highest paid, do we really want the additional expense for a hired mouth? Do we need any more toxic involvement? Instead the board and Mr. Gruber can and should speak honestly, candidly, transparently and evince real leadership and service. There is no place in Cambria for a weasel-word hired puppet.

Cambria resident Tom Cochrun has been a journalist for more than 42 years, working in print, radio, television and online media. He is a multiple Emmy winner and a 2006 winner of the George Foster Peabody award. He is a member of The Associated Press and Indiana Journalism halls of fame and is author of several novels.

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