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Jeff Whitten: Thoughts on a letter
editor's notes

Note: The letter to the editor referenced here, can be read at this link.

The thing is you never know what a day will bring.

Take Tuesday as an example. One minute you’re working on rounding stuff up to put together a handful of inside pages to get a jump on the paper and maybe get an early night Wednesday, the next you’re (metaphorically) wading through a letter that ends up eating up a good portion of your day if you’re me, because I’m slow or else I’d work in Twitter.

Said letter is headlined “Co-op critic slams News, county.” It is the second such missive from Mike Odom in recent weeks expressing his frustration and disappointment with the BCN and the county’s Co-op deal. Here’s my take.

1. Mr. Odom, a nice fellow by accounts, claims the BCN and its editor, me, are somehow complicit in this project by not mirroring his alarm about the awfulness of the county’s plan to buy the Fisherman’s Co-op sooner. I think.

With respect, that’s horsefeathers.

For one thing, I’m not smart enough to have an agenda. For another, I’m a weekly newspaper editor. Nobody in their right mind trusts weekly newspaper editors to collude on anything, especially when it comes to everything that has anything to do with money. We’d just buy beer with it and talk bad about bankers.

2. As for the project at the heart of Mr. Odom’s letters, the Fisherman’s Co-op, I cannot say whether it’s a good deal or not. I am not qualified, as I am neither a banker nor the boss of a county commissioner, both of which I believe describe Mr. Odom.

Nothing wrong with either, by the way, since somebody has to do it. However, while Mr. Odom is as entitled to his opinion as the rest of us, and hence it’s on this page, he isn’t a commissioner and wasn’t elected to run the county’s business. Perhaps he should run. Perhaps he will.

3. Mr. Odom writes there should have been more public disclosure of details of the Co-op purchase before it was made and alleges that’s a cover-up – sort of. However, details of real estate deals aren’t subject to disclosure under the open records act until after a deal is final. That’s state law.

4. The county in March announced it would pay $3.5 million for the Co-op, and cut that down to $3.25 mill. The county in July released figures from a hired engineering firm which show the first phase of the Co-op project might weigh in at under $7 million – not including the purchase price – and the whole thing may cost $12 million or more with bells and whistles. There’s also been talk of funding through SPLOST, and grants and this and that, etc. Far as I know the July numbers remain accurate. They were reported. We haven’t beat the story to death, but we haven’t tried to sneak anything past anyone.

5. I applaud Mr. Odum, and am glad he cares enough about local government to write, despite his throwing a number of jabs, such as calling me a purveyor of droning pablum and our readership “fairly thin.” 

6. I know folks on both sides of the fence about this. Some with astute minds who think it’s awful and some who think it’s a good thing. Maybe they haven’t been adequately informed, as Mr. Odom claims. Or maybe they have a different opinion regarding what constitutes a good use of taxpayer money. That happens.

7. This paper is a weekly with a 24-7 website manned by an editorial staff of approximately 1.25 people – I’m the “1” – plus an assorted stringer here and there willing to work for peanuts or less, because like many papers of our size we’ve been all but “defunded.” Google “the expanding news desert,” if you want to see how bad it’s getting for weeklies. We’re disappearing, folks.

9. Until we do, we’re here and we’ll continue to do our best to keep an eye on two city councils, the county commission, the school board, the school system – which is a behemoth – and cops and courts and COVID-19 numbers. And social justice issues and elections and sports and hurricanes or whatever else happens to pop up on any given day to eat up time, such as a woman who’s left two excruciatingly long messages on my work voicemail demanding we send out a reporter because COVID-19 is germ warfare, and, well, I’m certainly not going out there, and then a long letter that I felt deserved a response that probably will be old news by the time its hits the mail Thursday.

10. Finally, the BCN may be rickety, understaffed and mostly held together with 100 mph tape and fueled by generic coffee and Ibuprofen, but make no mistake about it. We haven’t abdicated anything.

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