Friday, July 26, 2013

Why is the Times Not Telling the Truth

Why is the Times Not Telling the Truth
Below is correspondence from Bud Risser supporter of Concerned Citizens, the Group that managed to finally get you a vote on the LENS.
It is Posted here with no editing.
Most of you likely saw, and perhaps read the Perspective section of Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times.   The entire page was about the Lens project, under the provocative title “Myths, lies and Facts”. 
It is just a damn shame that the Times falsely pretended to clear the air.  They did anything but.  Two days before mail ballots were posted by the Supervisor of Elections, and just one day before a terribly misleading piece was mailed by the “Build the Pier” group, the Times put this piece out there and totally mislead their readers.  
Unfortunately they insisted on prominently repeated two of the False statements in the flier being mailed by the pro-Lens people.  So now readers have seen back to back  fabrications -- in the paper, and in the flier.  Will they know these are lies?  Who knows.  As you know, fables repeated often enough become urban legend. 
Below is my letter to Tim Nickens expressing concern on this subject.  For those of you who do not know, Tim is in charge of editorials for the Times.  Bill Ballard sent an immediate letter Monday asking them to publish a correction of their assertion that there would be an air conditioned restaurant on the Lens.  Their disingenuous response was to tell Bill that they had privately talked to “the architect” and that there might be portable air conditioning units and moveable walls.  Then they posted a “clarification” (not a correction) the next day in the smallest print available.  Most people missed it. 
Look – each of us is entitled to our opinion.  Goodness knows our world is filled with opinionated people these days.  Personally I relish honest discourse with honest people with whom I disagree.   That is not what is happening here.  There is -- and never has been -- anything in any of the Maltzan plans that proposed there be a real air conditioned restaurant out there, and the editorial board knows it.
The financing piece (which I discuss below) is even more dishonest.  It is a simple fact (that almost everyone knows) that every single person in  Pinellas County will be obligated in paying back the $50 million loan.  How in the world they can say that it will be paid for by downtown property owners?  This fantasy is a real cause for concern.  Why?  Because there are only three possible reasons they would say this in print, and none of them are very reassuring.  They are  (1) The Times does not know the facts but makes them up anyway to suit their purpose.  (2) The Times lets someone give them data , but then publishes it without making any effort whatsoever to verify its accuracy, and (3) They are intentionally lying in order to sell the Lens project.  Read below, and then you decide which alternative fits. 
When you are finished PLEASE forward this email to anyone you think should read the letter.  Mr. Nickens has already told me he will not run it because it is too long.  I hope to convince him otherwise, but it is unlikely.  Email forwarding is the only way we can force the Times to be truthful.  Those of us who value accuracy and fair play have to do our part to counteract this malicious action. 
Thank you for your continuing support. 
To Mr. Tim Nickens -
I am sending this to you for publication on the condition that you will do no editing.  
To the Times: 
It is frustrating when the Times, whose staff properly takes appropriate satisfaction for being recognized as journalism professionals, publishes information that is - whether intentionally, or through ignorance - profoundly misleading to its readers.   Sunday's Perspective front page was an opportunity to be a real help to readers as they contemplate the future of the Lens.  It was not.  Your headline "Facts, lies & the Lens" implied you have done a careful analysis on behalf of your readers.  I only wish it were so.  Actually the material is filled with a number of serious errors and misstatements.  The most egregious of these involve financing and safety. 
For example:  "Myth 1" offers as a "Fact",   "Among the offering over water are an air-conditioned restaurant . . . ".   This will surely be a big  surprise for the City staff and the architects, because there is no such structure in the current plans (see BOD #3).  Moreover, just recently at a public meeting on July 10th, the City staff said clearly that there would be no air conditioning on the promontory (other than the gelato stand).  The real "FACT" is that the current plans show that people will be out there exposed on the promontory with no protection from our daily summer storms.  There are no walls to protect them from wind, rain or lightning, and certainly no air-conditioning.   ( BOD #3 details how they will be expected to evacuate during inclement weather, and details how this will be done and the time required to do so).   The most newly released depictions of the Lens continue to show no enclosed area.   This raises real and serious safety concerns that should have been acknowledged by you rather than pretending that the problem has been resolved. 
Then "Myth 4":   you state   "Fact:  The $50 million project . . .  is being financed with a portion of property taxes collected only on downtown properties, under a system known as tax-increment financing.”    This is blatantly untrue.  The source of the funds that will retire the debt is not the downtown property owners.  The source is the General Revenue Fund of the City of St. Petersburg, which is made up of a variety of revenue streams, including the entire ad valorem taxes paid by all property owners.    The "Fact" is that the financial burden for the project will be shared equally by all City residents.   County residents will similarly be contributing through the County’s General Fund.  Your misrepresentation appears to be a thinly veiled attempt – and gross misrepresentation -- to convince most City voters that somehow they will not be paying for the Lens. 
You go on to state "If it is not built, the money cannot be funneled to other city priorities without the Pinellas County Commission's permission. "  That statement is absurdly  and profoundly FALSE.    Florida Statute 163.387(7)(a) requires that any  Trust Fund money not spent at the end of each year must - by law -  be returned to the contributing agency at year end.  (There is one exception not relevant here).  Any money so returned clearly can be used for any City expenditure Council and the Mayor choose.   Similarly,  the County’s contribution is returned to the County for its use. 
You can easily follow how this money is transferred by Goggling the City’s 2013 budget.  The monies transferred into the Trust fund come from the General Revenue Fund of both the City ($4.66 million this year) and the County ($3.48 million).   (see the City Adopted 2013 Fiscal Plan, pages E-7 and E-27)  This money is raised from a variety of sources, including fees and taxes other than property taxes.  Clearly downtown property owners are no more responsible for paying for the project than any other citizen. 
It is one thing to innocently misunderstand an issue.  It is quite another issue to intentionally and egregiously misrepresent false statements as "Facts".   That is what you have done.  At the very least your readers deserve an apology, and integrity demands that you set the record straight before citizens begin to  vote.
P. N. "Bud" Risser

cc: Mr. Paul Tash
     Mayor Foster
     City Council
     Public distribution 

P.S. There are a number of other misstatements in your editorial, but I have not dealt with those in the interests of brevity.   If you wish, I can do so privately.

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