The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Blackstone's Mayor-Elect Attempts to Set the Record Straight on Conflict of Interest Issue...

The comments below were submitted by Billy Coleburn in response to a recent post discussing Mr. Coleburn's dual role as the Town of Blackstone's newly elected Mayor and chief editor of the Town's paper, The Blackstone Courier-Record. Mayor Colburn took exception to the "tone" of some of the comments in regard to the Iconoclast piece, and he attempts to answer some of these comments. Thanks for your response Mr. Coleburn, and I wish you the best of luck as Mayor of Blackstone!

This is Blackstone Mayor-elect and Courier-Record editor Billy Coleburn,here LIVE on this entertaining blog, to which I was referred by a Farmville friend.

I appreciate your comments--even the biting ones--and your concerns, and I promise to continue making sure the citizens of Blackstone and beyond are informed accurately and timely about their local governments.

Our newspaper, the 6,385-circulation weekly Courier-Record, has won many awards for the manner in which we inform citizens about their communities. I plan for that to continue.

I have hired a reporter to cover the Town Hall beat, and given her complete flexibility and independence, and clear instructions that if I say something stupid or offensive, to be sure and print it. I realize I'll be under the microscope and welcome the scrutiny. I've always tried to do the right thing for the right reasons. The more people know about their local government and public positions/public actions/public comments by public servants, the better.

I promise to be an attentive, outgoing, positive ambassador for Blackstone,and I will strive to make my critics proud of their next Mayor. I will do so without pandering. I campaigned by knocking on just about every door in Blackstone, and making people well aware of my dual roles, my family's history of public service, and also listening to their concerns and welcoming their questions about my many community hats. In addition to serving as editor of the paper and Mayor-elect, I am also Girls Softball Commissioner, and have served as head of my church's Board of Deacons for two years (Blackstone Presbyterian Church). Trust me, if you can keep peace in little league softball, you can truly bring the masses together!

One thing you might note--the Mayor of Blackstone does not vote, only in cases of ties. With a 7-member Council, I cannot recall that happening in the last 50 years. The Mayor of Blackstone DOES have veto power, but five votes from the 7-member Council overrides the veto. There has been ONE Mayoral veto, and that was about 60 years ago. I bring up the issue of voting primarily because the term "Conflict of Interest" has been thrown around, and in most cases, inaccurately.

"Conflict of interest" normally refers to a situation when an elected official has a vote pending on an issue. If that vote goes a certain way in which the elected official can profit in his private capacity, then that's potential for a "conflict of interest," and in most cases, the elected official will not vote.

The blog comment about me talking too much while interviewing people forstories in the newspaper, unfortunately, is 100% accurate. I'm still working on that one! I'm far from perfect and have made many mistakes in the past.

I must dispute one thing in the blog's comments section--I am not a "caustic right-wing hack" and don't plan to ever have an "R" beside my name, or a "D"for that matter, either. The parties have become too mean-spirited and partisan. If Bush found a cure for cancer, Democrats would say it was too risky. If Democrats invented a reliable, super-performing solar or battery car, Republicans would say they're too risky and pose a threat to national security.

Yes, I voted for Kilgore. He deserved to lose. He ran a negative campaign. And while I tend to disagree with Governor Kaine (D) on a number of issues, I find him to be a genuine good guy, and in the scheme of things, being a good man should still count for something these days. In fact, it should count for a lot these days. I also appreciate Kaine's can-do tone, which also is important these days. He is now my Governor, and I respect him.

I definitely lean to the right and consider myself "conservative," and have always tried to be tolerant of all other people. I have always tried to be pleasant and open-minded while debating others. At the end of the day, as a recent letter-writer said of me and my philosophies, we are all Americans.

What bothers me is the tone of some of the comments--both on the blog, and elsewhere in politics. You can really feel the hatred, and that's not healthy for any of us. But always remember what Nixon said about those who hate you. When you hate them back, they've won.

I'm pro-life, and in recent years, have become more and more anti-death penalty. I still waffle on that one. I'm a big believer in the right to bear arms, although I have chosen personally NOT to own a handgun. Hunting, youth sports, photography, and talking all kinds of sports/politics are among my hobbies. I voted for Bush twice, but am very upset with him for not securing our borders and not calling a "time-out" after 9/11 and getting our domestic house in order and our borders safe before stretching our military thin all around the globe. I know these comments have no real bearing on Blackstone, but you have a right to know where I stand on all kinds of

Like many people, I try to be a good Christian and fail often. It is hard to do those things that Jesus would do, such as turning the other cheek and blessing those who persecute you. I'm getting better at it each and every day, but only through God's love.

I've been happily married for 15 years and have two wonderful daughters, age10 and age 7.

I don't have all the answers, but I love my hometown and its people. When I graduated from William & Mary in 1990, I chose to return home, and home iswhere my heart will always be.



  • At 5/20/2006 9:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The Mayor Elect states that a conflict of interest is only when (more or less) an elected official stands to gain financially from their vote. Sure, this would be an example of an obvious conflict of interest, but it is hardly the only example of a potential conflict.

    I guess what I'm getting at is that a conflict of interest can come in many shapes and forms, and do not have to directly benefit a public official financially to be inappropriate or unethical.

  • At 5/20/2006 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

  • At 5/21/2006 8:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Will : I don't believe the comments you raised in your blog are different from those same concerns raised in the piece - about the potential for conflict of interest - a few weeks ago in the Times Dispatch.

    I've heard of a situation in Lunenburg County. Is it true that a member of the Board in Lunenburg, who also is the editor of a the Victoria paper (or Kenbridge), actually take pictues (for the paper) during Board meeetings from behind the Board's seating area?

    If this is ture that would b strange, even for Lunenburg.

  • At 5/21/2006 5:13 PM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    not sure about the BOS member in Lununburg, maybe someone can enlighting on this matter?

  • At 5/22/2006 8:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Lunenburg County supervisor Jane Atkinson was appointed in the year
    2000 and has served ever since. She is reporter for the Kenbridge
    Victoria-Dispatch,a role she has had for 25 years, and continues to cover those board meetings and yes, actually does take pictures from the board table. Kinda awkward!

    I have lots to say on this matter. Her journalistic sins, and they are many,are "sins of omission." She's not afraid to report heated topics, but often,if she doesn't think too highly of a speaker or his/her cause, she will simply choose not to report a volatile story that would have high reader

    Billy Coleburn has covered his father when his father served on
    Town Council in Blackstone. Once, his father during a meeting made a
    joke about Alcoholics Anonymous but worried it might offend. Billy was asked to omit the joke. He printed it, and his father issued an apology the next month. Billy is not afraid of controversy, even if he's involved in it.

    I must ask this question: Why is there not a law to "protect the
    public" from having an elected official also be a member of the media? Again, why not pass a law?

    All people are different, not too unlike many localities are different.Voters in Blackstone have decided the Blackstone issue. It will be interesting. But Billy Coleburn has hired someone to cover Town Council meetings and if he errs, it will be on the side of over-informing thepublic/citizenry.

    When editing letters to the editor on the recent Blackstone race, Billy cuthis for brevity...he refused to cut any endorsing his opponent. The longest letter of endorsement the Courier-Record has ever published was one endorsing his opponent. It was 590 words, and the last 260 alleged that
    Billy serving as editor and Mayor would be unethical.

    Again, why not pass a law? Just askin'...

  • At 5/22/2006 10:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I would like to answer the writers question concerning why not pass a law to protect the people from the media/elected officials?

    While we probably do need to have better laws about conflict of interest, it wouldn't solve the problem by picking on media people at the exclusion of all the other people who might similarly find themselves in positions of conflict. Some very obvious examples might include realtors, developers and lawyers.

    Just ask yourself that question: what would happen if we passed a law banning realtors, developors and lawyers from serving in elected positions (no sarcastic comments about lawyers please).

    We probably need much a more comprehensive definition of conflict, stronger disclosure requirements and stiffer penalties for violations.

    When you get right down to the basics, almost anybody can get into a position of conflict of interest especially personality types who embrace the idea of always first looking out for number one.

    Unfortunately, politics has a way of attracting a fair number of individuals who posess this kind of self serving personality trait. Not all of them. But a fair number.

  • At 5/22/2006 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Mr. Coleburn should be commended for his efforts to address the potential of conflict of interest. I think he is sincere.

    But, notwithstanding Mr. Coleburn's sincerity and good intentions, the potential of conflict still remains. Most of the time the news is the news is the news and there is little opportunity for conflict.

    But, the potential for conflict is for those relatively rare circumstances where the Mayor/Editor finds himself on the horns of a dilemma, tempted to sway a public issue one way or the other through the media he controls. This can be done very easily by picking and choosing what is reported as "news" and framing issues with "facts" sympathetic to his personal wishes.

    While I appreciate Mr. Coleburn's intent to have an independent reporter print "stupid or offensive" comments he might make, there is always a question of how independent a person can be when the person writing their paycheck is the person reported on.

    Besides, public accountability in the media is not just limited to reporting "stupid or offensive" words. Most skillful politicians are fairly artful in their public words. Their are many expaples of politicians who skillfully cultivate and polish a "public persona" to conceal less than honorable private behavior, self-serving motivations, or policy positions that are not particularly righteous.

    I am not saying that Mr. Coleburn would intentionally manipulate the public debate of local issues through the media he controls. But there will likely be occassional temptations and moral dilemmas creating a condition ripe for conflict.

    I think what we have here is a "tightrope" situation. Walk very carefully Mr. Coleburn and you may be successful. People will be watching.

    Thanks for your thoughts and best wishes for your sucess.

  • At 5/22/2006 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Speaking about the editor of Kenbridge Victoria Dispatch, who happens to also be on the Lunenburg BOS...I can remember once, DURING an actual board meeting, she looked out into the audience, and was preparing to make a point AGAINST allowing high-powered rifles for deer-hunting, and turned to Courier-Record editor/reporter (who I believe was Billy Coleburn sitting in the audience) and asked to go "OFF THE RECORD" during an actual, heated meeting with other spectators present.

    She's a real trip!

  • At 5/22/2006 4:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sound about right for Looneyburg though!

  • At 5/22/2006 8:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I can't help but add my experience to the story line about Jane Atkinson here in Lunenburg. Everything said so far about Jane sounds about right from what I've seen.

    The first time I saw Jane in action, I couldn't figure out what she was doing so I asked a neighbor who attends the Lunenburg county meetings more regularly. I was told that Jane, who is on the county council, is also the reporter covering the county meetings in the Victoria paper. To make matters worse, she is notorious for putting her own spin on the events to avoid issues she doesn't want the public to see. Some of this coverage leaves one wondering if she is even reporting on the same meeting.

    The newspaper management doesn't seem to care. Jane doesn't seem to care. And most people, while they may gripe about it, just dismiss Jane as a one of those "characters", mostly harmless and sometimes comical.

    But to be honest, this is probably a good example of what can go wrong when there is no independent media coverage of the political process.

    But, don't take my word for it. People need to start attanding these Lunenburg county meetings and see for themselves. I admit that I don't attend regularly, but I have seen enough to know that it really can become a problem when the media "watchdog" is more like a Director of Propaganda for the local government she is suppose to be watching.

    As they say, the people get the kind of government that they deserve!

  • At 5/22/2006 9:08 PM, Blogger Will Vaught said…

    I find this discussion concerning Jane Atkinson to be interesting, so interesting that I'm presently conducting some research into the situation in Lunenburg. Hopefully, I will have something discussing this unusual situation in Lunenburg posted by the end of the week...


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