Lost in translation

It is fascinating to me, in my weird dual role as Select Board member and scribe, to read my quotes in the newspaper.

On the Prepare Don’t Despair/Amherst First web shopping portal topic, a Wednesday (7/9) Gazette article said:

Select Board member Stephanie O'Keeffe said the town should thank the organization for whatever money is raised and given to the town every three months. "I think it's a lovely model of generosity," O'Keeffe said.

A Friday (7/11) Republican article says:

"I think it's a lovely model of generosity and the town appreciates it," said board member Stephanie J. O'Keeffe.

Here’s what I wrote in my meeting summary on the topic:

I said that I found the model interesting and generous, but questioned why the Town needed to know about the organization’s structure or have any direct involvement with the site.  I said I thought the Town should simply thank the group for any money it gives us. 

Here’s the transcription from my recording, sans the “ums” and other verbal tics of speech:

“So I think it’s a lovely model of generosity and of course, the Town appreciates it and, and all of the effort that you’ve put into it.  I’m a little bit curious why we need to be so involved with it.  Like, it seems to me that you’re going to be cutting us a check every quarter, and that’s great.  I’m not sure why we need to understand all of the organization behind it and why people would need to be able to sign in and get reports and whatever.  Like, can’t we just thank you very much for the check that we get every quarter?”

I was surprised that my opening pleasantry was the main “take away” from my remarks.  Sure, I said that the portal is a “lovely model of generosity,” but without any context, it seems like the primary position I expressed on the subject was praise and appreciation, when I felt that my primary position was “The town doesn’t need to be involved with your company, but it’s nice of you to give us money.” 

There was also the Thursday (7/10) Gazette article on cost of living adjustments for non-union employees.  It said:

Select Board member Stephanie O'Keeffe said she saw no reason the board shouldn't go along with the recommendation from the Personnel Board and the employees.

Here’s what I wrote about that:

I said that this was the most complicated issue so far in my time on the Select Board, and that I appreciated the sentiments being expressed though I didn’t agree with the conclusions.  I said my focus was on the process, and that while I might not agree with the recommendation, I could find no reason to oppose it, and that I didn’t think personal value judgments of individual Select Board members should be part of the decision.   I said that the Personnel Board’s recommendation represented due diligence, and that had their recommendation been for the 2% option, I would similarly not have wanted the personal opinions of Select Board members to override that recommendation.  I said that the Select Board’s responsibility is to ensure a well-functioning Personnel Board by appointing good members and providing good liaisonship, and because both had been done and the Personnel Board had engaged in a thoughtful and deliberative process, that I had to support its recommendation.  I said that the issue was not one of one option being right while the other was wrong, but rather that the options represented different ways of looking at the situation. 

And this is from my recording: 

“Wow, this is the most brain-busting issue that we’ve addressed in my tenure so far on the Select Board. I find myself appreciating the sentiment behind everything that’s been said and not necessarily agreeing with the outcomes, or kind of, the conclusions.  What I keep coming back to is process, and had the Personnel Board recommendation been otherwise, I don’t think I would like to see the Select Board voting on their personal value judgments to have gone against your recommendation, so I can’t come up with a reason for the Select Board to go against this recommendation.  The Select Board’s responsibility, it seems to me, is to be appointing a good Personnel Board, to be liasioning with the Personnel Board, to sort of be ensuring that their process works.  At the end of the day, this isn’t a right or wrong question; there are just kind of different ways that you can look at this. And those of us on the Board might look at it very differently from each other, but I think that the process works.  I mean, we’ve got a Personnel Board, clearly you’ve put a lot of time and effort and due diligence into this.  I’m not sure that any of our personal feelings on whether this is the right or wrong decision should really be factoring in to that so much, so I’m going to – unless we move to, you know, consider this longer, and so we can think about it more – I think that my decision is gonna have to be based on the fact that this is your recommendation.  I can’t oppose your process and how you came to the recommendation, so I guess that’s where I am.”

The newspaper summary of my comments isn’t wrong per se – I certainly expressed that thought – but I think that without any context it conveys something very different, and doesn’t capture what I was trying to express as my main point:  Out of respect for the process and for I what I see as the Select Board’s role in the matter, I was supporting the recommendation, even though I didn’t personally agree with it. 

A recent Bulletin (6/27) had an article about the parade discussion from the June 23rd meeting.  One part said:

O'Keeffe said the prospect of two parades is "not satisfying."

Here’s what I wrote:

I said that the Parade Committee’s sense of how it wants to hold its parade is clear, and that we don’t know how the different proposals suggested at the meeting might be received.  I said that there didn’t seem to be strong agreement among the group in attendance about whether the options of two parades or an “encapsulated” free speech segment in the private parade would be satisfying.  I said that the point of the discussion was to find a way to accommodate this group’s and the Parade Committee’s desires, and asked if this group might be able to unify around one of these alternative concepts.  I questioned how to proceed if that wasn’t possible and asked why a separate parade had never been pursued by this group previously. 

And from my recording:

“I have heard a lot of really thoughtful comments here today and I really appreciate all the really circumspect ways that people have approached this subject, and it’s all been really thought-provoking for me and I really appreciate it.  I’m interested in the idea of the fact that the parade committee has sort of a clear definition of how they have wanted their parade to be.  They’re not here, but we have a sense of what their definition is of how they want the parade to be.  Now we’re talking about other options and we have no idea if they would be satisfied by those.  I’m getting a sense that this group is much less unified in their sense of what would satisfy them, than say, the parade committee is.  They clearly want to do their parade their way – they define who gets to be in it.  We have talked about a number of different ways of dealing with this – the encapsulating of another parade within a parade, the idea of two parades, maybe those are all the ideas – maybe there’s two ideas – so we’ve gotten just a little bit of response to the idea of encapsulating and two parades, and what I’m hearing is that those aren’t even terribly satisfying to folks.  As Mr. Cutting pointed out, the idea of a Town parade – a totally public-sponsored parade – really kind of opens up a whole nother [Ed. note:  Yes! I really said that!] can of worms that we really haven’t trouble-shot that idea, I would say. I’m wondering how we move on from the fact that what we’re trying to do is accommodate – largely, this is about accommodating the kinds of views that are represented here.  The Parade Committee’s views had been kind of the standard for a while, and that apparently wasn’t working for everyone and that’s why we’re having this conversation. ­ If we can’t get some sense of agreement over either the idea of two parades or encapsulating something else, I don’t know what we do.  This is an interesting question. So I’m kind of posing to you folks again – the folks who have talked about this but not really addressed the question – like, how would you feel about two parades?  Do you think that you, as sort of the non-parade committee group, could coalesce around that?  Do you think you could coalesce around the encapsulated part? I’m wondering why, when the parade committee has really wanted to have their definition of celebration of a parade all these years, – there’s clearly another sense of how one might celebrate or honor the Fourth of July, – how come having a separate parade hasn’t been an option that’s been considered before? So I’m just kind of throwing that out there.”

Again, the quote isn’t exactly wrong – I definitely mentioned the sense of two parades being unsatisfying, but to me, the quote was not representative of the context in which I said it.  In particular, it attributes the sentiment to me, whereas I was attributing it to some of the members of the audience. 

This seems like criticism, but it isn’t really meant to be – it’s more of an analysis.  First of all, reporting is subjective – it can’t help but be.  We all see, hear and interpret things differently.  I have no doubt that my colleagues on the Select Board, were they so inclined, would summarize the meetings much differently than how I do them.  What one opts to include or exclude involves personal judgment calls about which points are most important.

Secondly, I may not be expressing myself clearly.  It’s easy for me to summarize what I said at a meeting, because I know what I was trying to express, regardless of how clumsily I might have done it live.  That’s a good lesson for me.

Finally, I write without the very significant constraints of article length or deadlines.  Both are huge factors.

The different perspectives and circumstances make it interesting for me to read the articles.  It’s a lot like reading a movie review after you’ve been to the movie, and seeing how your impressions line up.


Anonymous said:

I am very concerned about three points in the discussion of ambulance service.

1) How do you place a per dollar value on human life? EMS service is all about saving lives. The fire department is the only town agency that pays for nearly half of its operating expenses through it own revenue generation. In this time of looking for new revenue streams, why are we talking about eliminating the revenue stream provided by Hadley? This fire & ems service for profit is a dangerous concept for any muncipality to get into.

2) How many times is the Select Board going to allow the Town Manager to say this is not a Select Board issue? To me that is completely disrespectful statement. He has done it multiple times, on multiple issues. Amherst Town Government continues to become an increasing polarizing entity to its citizens, its employees, and its neighbors.

Larry Kelley said:

Reporters are just doing their (low-paying) jobs. Bloggers are exposing their life. As the old saying goes: "write what you know". And who knows better than the blogger living their life.

Your admirer.... said:

Welcome to the other side of the desk - now you know how I often felt ;-)



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