Micro-Managing the Grand Stan

For nearly four years, our readers have looked to Stan Austin for what is perhaps the most in-depth coverage of Lakewood city council that any news organ has ever provided. Over the years Austin has worked hard to deliver a timely report of nearly every council meeting. He has done so - like all LO writers, editors and photographers - as a volunteer.

With the exception of Jeff Endress's "Chef Geoff" column and until recently, Gordon Brumm's work in "Minding the Issues", no other writer has been as dedicated to the consistent production of material for the LO on a bi-weekly basis.

I commend Stan Austin, Jeff Endress and Gordon Brumm for their dedication to the project and encourage new columnists and writers to follow their example.

Because of my respect for Austin's work, I am taken back by his most recent council report, "Experience - Is It Important?", which is printed in this issue of the LO. The article is a speculative commentary on council's "unique characteristic," stemming from a lack of "multi-term experience," rather than a factual account of the business carried out during the last meeting. Austin comments on how this "unique characteristic" threatens "checks and balances" and the "values and traditions" which have informed best practices in councils past.

In hope of clarifying Austin's stance, I aggressively pursued first the amendment of his work followed by a laundry list of critical questions and qualifications for which I requested answers and explanations.

Austin refused both attempts, stating in email correspondence that the article "stands on its own. It needs no 'defense'." He asserts that my imposition of such an editorial process is nothing more than a desperate attempt at imposing my own bias through "micro-management".

The bias I am holding here is one that questions presumptions and values a balanced approach to the LO's coverage of the new council and the new administration.

I contend that Austin has become an authoritative, if biased, voice on the business of local government. With such authority comes a great responsibility to deliver truth in the broadest, most objective sense.

As restated below, I see the essential problem with this article being that Austin is making an argument without wanting it to be recognized as such. He would like his presumptions about experience and "check and balances" to be read as facts when his assertions, definitions and logic are in my editorial view lacking validation. This is the basis of my objection to calling this submission a council report, on a LO page officially marked with the header " Lakewood City Council".

Below the reader will find my laundry list of requests, questions and qualifications which Austin has refused to consider. The reader will need to have read Austin's column in order to progress through the below printed list of editorial suggestions. I have indicated the paragraph(s) to which each point corresponds in parenthesis.

Editorial suggestions, criticism and comments sent from Dan Slife to Stan Austin via email on 1/31/08:

[5] Define the "unique characteristic". What is it?

[6, 7 & 8] You confuse these "basic theories"(include principles, which you're using interchangeably with theories) with "techniques". To clarify, theory and practice are two related though essentially different worlds. Technique belongs to the realm of practice. What techniques? Are we talking about governmental structure or political strategy?

[7] "Hoped" by whom?

[7] How is this thought concerning collaboration vs. unilateralism logically connected to the "unique characteristic"?

[7 & 8] Again, WHO is making that connection? It is not logical to make a value judgment on one aspect within this dichotomy of collaboration vs. unilateralism in absence of context. There's no explanation of a context which would lead the mindful reader to conclude that this "unique characteristic" might threaten the theories and practices related to the balance of powers.

[7, 9 & 10] In politics there are winners and losers, Stan. Where is this going?

[8] What does it have to do with theory and practice? What does it have to do with the "unique characteristic"?

[8] Does the City Charter state that multi-term tenure is a pre-requisite for good government, and/or the maintenance of balanced powers? Please show me.

[8] What is the connection between the staggering of terms, multi-term tenure, and the balance of powers? You fail to make any such connection. The concepts are all there, floating in the ether, ill defined and disassociated.

[9 & 10] You are articulating the Change vs. Experience dynamic analogous to that driving the Obama vs. Hillary (respectively) democratic contest. Should you be interested, you could build on this theme to bolster your reputation as the council point man, people would love it. You would do well to articulate this thematically throughout the piece and in an objective way, highlighting the benefits and pitfalls on each side.

However, the essential problem with this article is that you are making an argument without wanting it to be recognized as such. You would like it to be read as fact when it's actually debatable. This is the basis of my objection to calling this a council report, on a LO page officially marked with the header "Lakewood City Council".

Read More on City Council
Volume 4, Issue 3, Posted 4:05 PM, 02.04.2008