Just as Otis Redding wrote and Aretha Franklin sang many years ago, R-E-S-P-E-C-T is what everyone wants in any relationship. Whether it’s personal or business, each person wants to know that they are valued and respected — that they will be treated with courtesy and civility – by their co-workers, boss, the public at work and by their friends and family members when they punch out.
The topic of respect and civility seems to come up a lot in regard to our Town Council. Over the past couple years, we’ve had council members shouting at each other, residents shouting at council, council members snarking at staff and that’s not to mention the ambush firing of a town manager a year ago and the legal boondoggle that followed.
While it’s been relatively quiet in recent months, our council struggles to keep it together for very long. And wants to pat itself on the back if they go a couple meetings without an outbreak of rudeness, name-calling or a member walking out. They could set the bar a little bit higher.
As most Islanders have heard, at last week’s Town Council meeting, Vice Mayor Tracey Gore, in discussing her complaints about loud music, spoke positively about establishments in a south-end plaza and how overly loud music was handled there. When council member Anita Cereceda said that was because there was a single landlord in that plaza who was “king,” Gore responded that council was “king” of Times Square so “our little flying monkeys need to make sure that they do something about this.”
If there is anyone who has not seen “The Wizard of Oz” a dozen times or more, flying monkeys are the minions of the evil Wicked Witch of the West who sends them to the forest to capture Dorothy and her dog, Toto. More recently the term “flying monkey” is used to refer to those who are used by a manipulative person or narcissist to attack their enemies.
So, a truly unfortunate choice of words on many levels. We are not implying that anyone is a narcissist just as a council member should not imply that employees of the town are monkeys, flying or not.
Since then Gore has said that she was having a metaphorical conversation with Cereceda. If so, she should explain just who she was referring to other than town staff, because many of us who watched that meeting took her comments as referring to staff. In an email to the Town Manager, she said that code enforcement should be monitoring noise in the evenings and on weekends. If not staff, who exactly would she like to act on a noise complaint?
We fact check our stories and that means a lot of listening to recorded council meetings and poring over public record requests. Our story on this topic last week ran long because we wanted readers to understand the whole discussion in which Gore’s comment was made. It would have been misleading and unfair to just put that quote out there without the conversation that led up to it. Do not confuse our in depth story with a 30 second television spot. We quoted heavily from the meeting, specifically to let people know what was said by whom. Some residents are unhappy that we wrote so much about it. We’ll never apologize for giving readers too much information. If anyone finds any quote or statement in that or any article in the Island Sand Paper to be in error, I want to know about it. We’re not perfect, we do get things wrong on occasion.
But I don’t think we got any quotes wrong or told this story inaccurately. I think we just called attention to a statement made on tape that some people would have rather we ignored.
Some town employees, convinced the “little flying monkeys” reference was to them, were insulted by the comment. We have a story this week about those complaints.
Let’s clear up how we got those complaint letters. The simple answer: public records requests. An island resident, not a Town employee, told us about them and we asked the Town for copies of all complaints regarding the ‘monkeys’ comment.
No one submitted a complaint to us. No Town employee contacted us. We have not spoken to any Town employee about this other than the Town Clerk to request the records.
We thought that having several town staff members write letters of complaint was significant enough to cover as a story. Some readers won’t be happy that we’ve covered this either, and would prefer that it be ignored also, like the original comment.
We’re not going to do that.
So, this is a mess. Again. And it need not be.
We don’t think that Vice Mayor Gore meant to insult Town staff when she made her reference to flying monkeys. We have no idea what she actually meant, only what we all heard, but she could acknowledge that it was, at minimum, an unfortunate choice of words that did indeed insult Town Staff. Anyone who listens to the tape of the May 15, 2017 meeting beginning at 2:38 would reasonably conclude that the comment referred to sending town staff to enforce noise ordinance violations, except that isn’t what she said. She said “send our little flying monkeys…”
Once elected to a public office, an office-holder must choose their words carefully. They are no longer in their living room chatting with friends, they are representing an entire community, especially when sitting on the dais with the cameras rolling.
Attacking the messenger does not change what was said.