Editorial: ‘News release’ was in poor judgmentPublished 11:54pm Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The ongoing controversy between Niles Township officials all began with a slip of paper with 86 words typed on it.
Last week at a Niles city council meeting, Township Supervisor Jim Kidwell gave reporters a statement labeled as a “news release” alerting them of an investigation of Township Treasurer Jim Ringler for allegedly violating township policy.
The “news release” was an inappropriate move by Kidwell, with political overtones that don’t serve the best interests of township residents. The investigation cost the township money. Whether or not the investigation was or was not necessary, more than one person’s go-ahead should be given before tax dollars are spent.
According to the release, the investigation was the result of a complaint from Niles Township Zoning Administrator Stefanie Woodrick about “two separate occasions when Ringler … tried to intimidate (her) into making illegal zoning changes.”
At Monday’s township meeting, township attorney Mary Spiegel informed the board that the investigation, completed by a Kalamazoo law firm, found Ringler did not violate township policy.
See the stories in Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s Star for all the details.
Several board members were unhappy that they were not consulted before the press release was distributed.
The township does not have a policy regarding who can administer press releases or whether they need board approval, but Kidwell said being the “spokesperson” for the township is part of his duties as supervisor.
Clearly, the township needs to put a policy in place, and the authority to issue what may seem like official township news needs to involve more than one person. If the township did have such a policy, the release probably would not have been disseminated, considering many of the board members did not want to associate themselves with the release.
“This was not a board press release,” said Trustee Dick Cooper at Monday’s township board meeting. “The board did not vote on this or decide on this.”
Ringler’s attorney R. McKinley “Mac” Elliott says the press release was an attempt by Kidwell to “smear” Ringler. But Kidwell says he was trying to dispel rumors around town about the investigation of Ringler.
Regardless of Kidwell’s motivation, it was poor judgment to inform the public of an internal conflict before any violation of policy was confirmed — especially without consulting other board members.
The fact that the public was made aware of the investigation and then Ringler was essentially exonerated from any violation of policy created unneeded controversy and is embarrassing to the township.
This editorial reflects the views of the Niles Daily Star editorial board.