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The Mayor Speaks

By RD Heldenfels Published: April 6, 2006

On Thursday, I wrote a story about the latest developments in the attempt to save the Akron-Canton newscast currently airing on Time Warner Cable. The newscast loses money, and if it doesn't find more revenue sources, it will probably be gone at the end of April. As a result, people, including Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, have been trying to find a way to keep the telecast going. Those efforts included a meeting of community leaders.


The meeting was closed to the press. I knew that a few days ago, and it neither surprised nor bothered me. It was a meeting about a private enterprise, and one that involved money issues. Ed Esposito, a local radio news director, was unhappy about the decision, especially since Plusquellic was speaking at the meeting; he was also displeased that reporters were not only being kept out of the meeting, but out of the building where the meeting took place.


He sent a note to the mayor about his complaints; he also sent copies of his letter to other news organizations. After discussion with a couple of editors, I decided to attend a press conference by the mayor about the meeting, and to ask the mayor about Esposito's complaints. If nothing else, that gave the mayor a chance at a public reply, in case I decided to use the letter in my story.


At the press conference, Plusquellic talked some about the meeting, but -- in response to another reporter's question -- declined even to say who had attended.


I asked my question. And got a reply that, according to my audio recorder, ran a little over four minutes. Needless, to say, I didn't use all of it in my story. (You can read the story here.) But I thought it was amusing enough to transcribe here.


ME: Was it your idea, then, that this meeting be closed to news organizations, and do you find it at all ironic that a discussion of getting news to the people was held so privately?


PLUSQUELLIC: I'm surprised you take direction so much, so well, from Ed, who in my opinion has hyped that story, hyped that for his own, uh, good, for whatever he thinks comes of that. I hold meetings all the time with business people. It happens on almost an everyday basis. I do not believe that business people who are trying to come up with some solution to a problem -- either for redeveloping their business, adding jobs, or in this case, acting in the best interest to provide news -- want to have a news camera and a radio microphone sitting in the room while they're trying to talk about possible solutions.


And the idea that you're linking this up with, 'Gosh, isn't it unbelievable, such an unbelievable thing that the mayor is talking about protecting news, but he's closed it to the news media.' I mean, It's almost like our whole society is affected by electrical beams or something, screwed up our thinking.


I don't know what gets into you people. This is a meeting about getting something done. And  I, I read that crazy thing [Esposito's note] this morning and I don't know, maybe some of you sit in little cubicles, drinking too much coffee, by yourself, talking to [recording unclear] inanimate objects or something, that you're not right or something. I'm not sure. But this is a bizarre issue to try to bring up.


I'm a mayor of Akron who could do nothing, and could let the Beacon Journal go out there, and 162 people go out there, and wither on the vine. And I've been out trying to do whatever I can [to help the newspaper]. We put money into this [TV newscast] ourselves, as well as the county, to build the studio, even though we were not listed as sponsors, and said we wanted nothing of that, even though we obviously took it through council and you folks all knew about it. But we built the set and all the things that were permanent, so the content and all the other things on an ongoing basis, we couldn't be accused of being a sponsor and buying good news stories.


I mean, I've done everything to play this straight. And it's preposterous somehow to say that, because this private group of people representing mostly private institutions, can't meet and hold a meeting to discuss a private investment to private companies, to try to do something which is of general interest to the public, but which is still private, is somehow a horrible thing that we didn't open it so you folks can make your job easy, to sit in there and take notes or something, is really almost -- It ranks up there with one of the most unrealistic and unbelievable turn of events I think I've seen. But it's very typical. Somebody, in some little cubicle, comes up with some strange twist -- of paranoia or whatever else to describe something, and it's the lead story. And if that's what it is, that's what it is.


It's preposterous to think that we would open this up to radio or TV reporters, or anybody else. It just doesn't make sense. Why would we do that? If Goodyear was going to put a new plant in and put 3,000 employees here, do you think I would open that meeting up and have you come in there? And do you think there's any way that you could portray that as a bad story for me? 'Mayor Meets With Goodyear Top Official To Bring 3,000 Jobs to Community.' You can't screw me, no matter how you want to, on that one. But I wouldn't do it [admit reporters to the meeting] because it would be counterproductive.


Be nice publicity for me. The problem is, you folks in your business have dealt with too many folks in my business that are more interested in that positive story and positive spin. They'd have said, 'Oh yeah, come on in 'cause it's good for me and gosh, I'm afraid to stand up to anybody and do what's right because you guys will write front-page headlines.' I want to get things done on behalf of the citizens, and if you don't put that in that story, an explanation when you're doing some crazy twist to this story, then ...


(On ''then,'' the mayor stopped talking. And another reporter asked a question.)

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