The op-ed that came too soon

Speaking of Mayor Bob, as we were earlier… A few days ago, he sent us an op-ed submission. Then he resent it with an additional byline on it — that of Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine. It was about the recent city council retreat.

Trouble is, we had run a piece from him just days earlier — last Friday, as a matter of fact. And that piece wasn’t long after another one from him. We can’t just turn over the space we have for local guest columns to the mayor every time there’s something he wants to respond to — he’s a very responsive guy. We have space most days for one local, nonstaff column. There’s a lot of competition for that slot, most days. So we have a guideline — no more than one piece for the same person within 30 days. And we had already stretched that rule once for the mayor, since his earlier piece had been on Feb. 20. We couldn’t give him yet another pass and still face all the other folks we’ve said "no" to. We’d made the first exception because he was responding to an editorial that had been critical of the city. We could have made another for the same reason, but chose not to.

Instead, I offered to put it on the blog. Here’s the cover note that came with the most recent version of his latest submission:

In light of today’s editorial I wanted to submit again the op ed from myself and Tameika Isaac Devine. The editorial was based on Adam Beam’s story about our retreat. While the editorial and Adam’s story certainly describe legitimate issues, I believe the op ed addresses one issue that has been corrected. The City Council partly as a result of the study cited in the editorial has set specific goals and a specific strategic action plan to implement those goals. Both the goals and the plan will be on our website after the plan is updated from the comments at the retreat. 

The editorial specifically addresses the report and lack of goals when the writer says: "The report, based on interviews with dozens of managers in city government, said the City Council set no vision or goals…" The editorial goes on to say: "Council members told the study commission that the 2001 report was accurate. But they declared things had changed under Mr. Austin. Mayor Bob Coble said he thought members followed state law in terms of how they interact with city employees. But the events at the recent retreat say things have gotten no better. The council remains a major culprit in ensuring the city’s government struggles."

Clearly the main thrust of the editorial is the "interferance" (the writer’s term in the opening paragraph) of City Council and the form of government and not the lack of planning. While City Manager Austin would be the one to say what improvements have been made in how City Council interacts with him, I would note that the lack of formal goal setting and planning has been addressed, I believe in fairness the op ed adds an important perspective on whether the City Council took steps to formally address that criticism (instead of using the State of the City for the last six years as the primary vehicle for setting goals as would be the common practice under a strong mayor form of government). Of course the op ed discusses the major issues that were addressed at the retreat in addition to the one that Adam addressed in his story. As always I appreciate your consideration.

And here is the text of the submission itself:

City Council Retreat Friday March 7, 2008
    I wanted to give a report on the Columbia City Council Retreat that was held Friday March 7th at the Convention Center. The bulk of the day was spent reviewing the four broad goals that City Council adopted last year. Those goals were:
1. To enhance the quality of life in the City of Columbia for all citizens, customers and visitors.
    2. To enhance and protect our natural and built infrastructure.
3. To enhance Columbia’s future role as the flagship municipality in South Carolina through the use of best practices for local government operations.
4. To grow the City’s tax base by facilitating opportunities for citizens and future generations to reach their full economic, social, and cultural potential.   
Those broad goals are being implemented through Columbia’s Strategic Operational Plan that staff has developed, and that City Council reviewed at the retreat. Both the goals and strategic plan will be on our website
    While a number of specific issues were discussed at the retreat, I think four were particularly important. First, City Council affirmed our plan for safety and security in Columbia. We established as our top funding priority, the police and fire retention plan to increase salaries by $2.5 million over a three year period. We reaffirmed our commitment to fund a security camera system and the goal of 375 police officers (an increase of 19 officers). Additionally, we are committed to fighting gang and youth violence with the implementation of the recommendations of our gang assessment. 
    Secondly, we reviewed the progress we are making in correcting the deficiencies in our Finance Department that were outlined in the September 2007 Management Letter. We have retained the Municipal Association of South Carolina to help us establish best practices and online financial reporting.
    Thirdly, the City has made a real commitment to climate protection. Implementation of our energy audit, which will be released this month, will be a top priority for the coming year. Columbia must do our part to reduce global warming and protect our environment.
    Fourth, we reviewed the implementation of the disparity study that was adopted by Council in August of 2006. City Council reaffirmed our strong commitment to the study’s implementation and the need for accountability in reaching our goal of economic fairness and inclusion for our diverse community.   
Columbia City Council established last year our broad goals and the strategic operational plan to implement those goals. This year’s retreat was an important opportunity to review progress and take corrective steps where needed. Columbia is going through the greatest renaissance in our history. Innovista will transform our economy and create high wage jobs. The Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center and Hilton Hotel are bringing in tourists and conventions. We are creating new attractions such as EdVenture, the Three Rivers Greenway, and the historic Bethel AME Church Museum. The heart of Columbia, from the Riverfront, Downtown, Five Points, North Columbia, Two Notch Road to Read Street, has been revitalized. Private investment, both residential and commercial, has exploded. We have stronger neighborhoods with more residents, more homeowners, and greater home values in Columbia. We have achieved this growth with a commitment to diversity and inclusion. We have launched a new effort “Together We Can” to improve our public schools through greater community partnerships. This coming year will be an exciting though challenging time. Clear goals and our strategic plan will help us achieve success. 

Thank you,

Mayor Bob Coble
3333 Heyward Street
Columbia, South Carolina

Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine

8 thoughts on “The op-ed that came too soon

  1. Doug Ross

    Personally, I think if The State wants to remain viable in the ever competitive information world, more local interest op-eds would be far more useful than another rehash of the Iraq War by David Brooks or George Will (whose columns can be read any day of the week on the internet).
    You’ve got the perfect vehicle to speak directly to the citizens who buy the paper every day about topics of local interest.
    Give the mayor half a page a week and give someone else half a page with a different view. Same for Mark Sanford and anyone else who has an opinion that matters to the people of this state.
    Honestly, out of 100,000 readers, how many do you think actually read the nationally syndicated columnists? 1000? 2000?

  2. Brad Warthen

    Actually, Doug, you’d be surprised. When I first became editorial page editor in 1997, I had this grand plan to run more local pieces than syndicated. After all, people could read the syndicated anywhere, right?
    I got a steady drumbeat of complaints. Everywhere I went, people griped about too many local, not enough national and international opinion. I tried arguing with people about it, telling them I could give them more value with the local, but you know what they say about the customer being right… I gave in, and once I went to about a 2-1 ratio, national-to-local, the complaints stopped. Go figure.
    Don’t tell anybody, but as our space has gradually tightened over the years, I’ve moved it to more like a one-to-one, although on Sunday when we have a full page it’s back to 2-1 or even 3-1. No complaints yet.
    But I had trouble getting away with more than one local a day. I can’t figure it out, but that’s the way people like it. Of course, it does cause us to be selective, so I guess that improves the quality… Competition for a scarce resource, you know.

  3. Gary Karr

    Why doesn’t the Mayor do his own blog? That way he can communicate directly with his constituents and others, and The State can run longer pieces by him when appropriate. And then Brad can have another link in his blogroll.

  4. Bob Coble

    Gary, I actually had a blog on my website but I could not keep up with all the bloggers. I have done a couple of op eds recently about issues such as gangs and endowed chairs but many of my op eds are answering an editorial in The State about the City. The editorial folks are very fair in running an op ed that answers an editorial or running it on Brad’s Blog if I have recently had one published. I post speeches etc on my website and on my Facebook page. Thanks

  5. bud

    But I had trouble getting away with more than one local a day. I can’t figure it out, but that’s the way people like it. Of course, it does cause us to be selective, so I guess that improves the quality…
    If space is at such a premium why on earth do you continue to run and re-run and re-run yet again another Lindsey Graham piece explaining how well the occupation of Iraq is going? He never says anything different. Never adds any nuance. Never provides information that hasn’t been re-hashed a million times. We know Lindsey loves the occupation of Iraq. We all get that. Believe me, there is not one shred of doubt in my mind that Lindsey loves this foreign policy nightmare. So enough already. I’d much rather see Mayor Bob talk about the railroad tracks.
    And by the way, in case nobody has noticed sectarian violence is creeping up in Iraq. We’re on track to have over 800 Iraqi civilians killed this month. After dropping to about 548 that would represent a 50+% increase since December. At least Lindsey could try to provide some relevant, up-to-date information rather than this Bush administration spin where all statistics are cherry-picked. As our Senator, Graham has an obligation and a duty to be forthright and not spin this. The State should refuse his editorials until he agrees to provide something different from the usual spin.

  6. Doug Ross

    Did you also notice that on the McCain trip to Iraq last week, he was wearing a flak jacket?
    And the market area he and Lindsey toured last year and proclaimed as an example of how safe Iraq was (even though they were surrounded by 100 troops with a couple Blackhawk helicopters overhead) was considered too dangerous to tour this time…
    It’s all about photo ops and propaganda.

  7. Brad Warthen

    I agree — his arguments are the same that they have always been.
    But then, so are the arguments of those who disagree with him.
    Anyway, it had been a while since his last one, and when someone elected by the whole state wants to address our readers, we provide the opportunity within our parameters as described above. Why? Because voters have the right to know what their elected officials are saying — even if they find it monotonous. Each of us has the opportunity to do our part in removing or re-electing such officials, and each op-ed we run from them gives you more information to go on.

  8. Lee Muller

    The tape released by Osama bin Laden this week says that Iraq always was and still is the central battleground for Al Qaeda, and must be captured because it offers the perfect base to take Palestine and Lebanon.
    I will not hold my breath waiting for a response from Delusional Democrats.

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