Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Newspaper Claims City Hall Dragging Its Heels

A local Santa Barbara newspaper is in a spat with City Hall and it's not the News-Press.

The Daily Sound ran an editorial Tuesday that was critical of Santa Barbara City Administrator Jim Armstrong and City Finance Director Robert Samario for being slow to respond, or in some instances for not responding at all, to the paper's request for information about the City's employee home loan program.

The editorial claims that Armstrong and his staff withheld or delayed providing information about the now controversial mortgage loan assistance program despite requests for the data by the Daily Sound. And, once again according to the editorial, there was even an attempt by Armstrong to recall an email he accidentally copied the Daily Sound on. In that email Armstrong reportedly suggested to Samario that he "take his time" in responding to questions posed by the Sound.

The Daily Sound was the first newspaper to report on the status of the program which surprised many people with respect to the low interest rates involved and the possibility that some of the properties that were the subject of the loans may be, financially speaking, underwater. The story has also been aggressively pushed by Ernie Salomon who hosts a local cable TV access show.

The editorial appears on the same day that the Sound ran a front-page
follow-up story
that pointed out, among other things, that the City does not have any data that measures the effectiveness of the loan program.

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I asked Josh Molina, the Daily Sound's editor about the "Staff Editorial" heading, wondering if it represented something different than the institutional viewpoint of the paper that an editorial customarily represents.

Molina assured me that it was a regular editorial written by publisher Jeramy Gordon and was based on Molina's news articles on the subject as well as conversations between Gordon and Molina about Molina's reporting experiences in covering this story.

"The paper just felt it was unfortunate and disappointing that Jim (Armstrong) would downplay a simple request for information, particularly on a story that clearly has resonated with many Santa Barbara residents," Molina said in an email to me.

The fact that Molina, who has covered local politics for a long time, enjoys a high level of respect among City Hall insiders makes this dust-up all the more intriguing.

My own take is that the City shouldn't be running away from this story if that is in fact what they are doing. After all, this loan program wasn't cooked up in some back room deal. It's just that when it was put in place times were good and people didn't give much thought to the mortgage loan assistance program, if they noticed it at all.

Current city council members are quick to point out that none of them were on the council when the home mortgage loan program was approved 10 years ago. And nobody who was on the council 10 years ago has stepped up to explain, justify or defend the implementation of the program.

Well, you know what they say: "Victory has many fathers but defeat is always an orphan."

Somebody call Child Protective Services because there's an abandoned kid wandering the corridors of City Hall.
© 2011 by Craig Smith and