In its news broadcasts throughout the evening Monday, KUSI aired a report by Doug Curlee during which the veteran TV newsman took CityBeat to task on our story last week raising questions about City Councilmember Jim Madaffer's hiring of the mayor's former press secretary as director of the Grantville redevelopment project.
Curlee reported that CityBeat implied that the hiring of Colleen Windsor "was a political payoff for former Mayor Dick Murphy," and, he remarked, "Plainly put, much of the CityBeat article was just plain wrong."
To support the charge that "much" of the story was "wrong," Curlee cited two erroneous claims-that Windsor was getting paid upwards of $103,000, and that no one knew for whom Windsor was working. Windsor's pay has fallen, Curlee reported, to just $88,000. And, he said, she works for Jim Madaffer. Clear as can be.
Curlee interviewed both Madaffer and Windsor on air, quoting Madaffer as saying, essentially, that he's beside himself with glee that he could land someone as talented as Windsor, and quoting Windsor as saying her job doesn't require much working knowledge of redevelopment.
Windsor tells Curlee, "My biggest job is going to be communicating to the businesses, the landowners and the residents as to what's going on, and what do they want to see going on."
"Windsor admits she's got a lot to learn here," Curlee reports, "but much of what the job will require, she already knows." Then he cuts back to Windsor, who says, with a straight face, "You have to know the players, and who to call-that in itself would probably take someone coming from the outside at least a year to get up to speed. I already know those players."
Let's repeat that for emphasis-it would take someone who didn't know the "players" in the sprawling metropolis that is Grantville at least a year to figure out who owns the auto-repair shop and the Mexican restaurant and dial their phone numbers. A year, she says. Well, now that you put it that way, $88,000 doesn't sound so outrageous. Sounds like she's worth every penny. C'mon, Colleen, you've got to be kidding.
Curlee ended his report with this cryptic commentary: "The bottom line? Apparently, it's: Don't believe everything you read, especially if it's in an alternative newspaper that may have its own agenda."
Curlee's journalistic wrath would really hurt us if it weren't so comical. Of course, what do we expect from the dimmest station in town. The station that pays Rod Luck actual U.S. currency to clown around on camera. The station that opened its broadcast Monday night with a story its news directors apparently thought was of utmost relevance to the lives of San Diegans: Olivia Newton-John's boyfriend missing at sea. And it wasn't even San Diego where he was last seen-it was San Pedro.
Let's take Curlee's report point-by-point:
* Windsor's salary. She and Madaffer told Curlee it's $88,000, not $103,000, as we reported. We got our figure from the city manager's office, and we realize now that that was her mayor's-office pay. Windsor could have told us her salary, but she didn't bother to return our calls.
* Who's she working for? We reported that Madaffer sent out a memo saying he had hired her and was going to pay her with redevelopment money. At the very end of our story, we mentioned that there was some confusion. Madaffer's press secretary, Leslie Webb, told our reporter, Dan Strumpf, that Windsor wasn't working for Madaffer. But we ended with a spokesperson for City Manager Lamont Ewell saying Windsor had begun working for Madaffer three days after leaving the mayor's employ.
* Our "agenda." Huh? If Curlee's referring to our agenda to expose bad or questionable governance, then, fine. But we doubt that's what was on Curlee's mind. We think it's something he got from Madaffer or Windsor. In any case, he shouldn't leave his readers hanging. When CityBeat suggests that someone has an agenda, we tell our readers what we think that agenda is.
* Sourcing. Though his attempts to interview Madaffer and Windsor were unsuccessful, Dan Strumpf interviewed John Pilch, a community planning advisor in the Grantville area and member of the city's Granville Redevelopment Advisory Committee; Dave Potter, a respected community planning advisor who formerly chaired the umbrella board encompassing all the city's neighborhood planning groups; Ellie Oppenheim, who heads the city's Community and Economic Development Department; redevelopment activist John McNab; City Councilmember Donna Frye; City Attorney Mike Aguirre; the city manager's spokesperson and Webb, Madaffer's press secretary. In contrast, as far as we know, Curlee talked to Madaffer and Windsor. He didn't even attempt to contact the subject of his story: CityBeat. Reached Monday night by Strumpf, Curlee said he identified $88,000 in Madaffer's budget for Windsor's salary, and that was good enough for him-no need to talk to the target of the story. That's really good journalism, Doug. Nice work.
In his zeal to discredit CityBeat, Curlee missed the story. Madaffer at first claimed that Windsor would be paid with redevelopment tax-increment funding that won't even exist until next year at the earliest. The point of the story was the appropriateness of using redevelopment money to finance City Council staff positions. Meanwhile, the county of San Diego has sued the city over Grantville redevelopment, leaving a cloud over the entire project.
Now, it appears that Madaffer is circling the wagons and changing the story. He now says Windsor will be paid from his office budget. We have questions about that change and continue to work on the story, but Madaffer so far has declined to help us clear things up. (Incidentally, neither he nor Windsor has returned calls from Fox 6-TV's John Mattis, whose story also aired Monday evening.)
And apparently Curlee doesn't see anything wrong with a city deep in financial doo-doo paying someone $88,000 to be a go-between? Windsor gets nearly 90-grand because she knows a few property owners in a small corner of Mission Valley? Maybe we're stuck in alternative-journalism dollars and real-world salaries have left us in the dust, but it seems a little high.
When he talked to Strumpf, Curlee said maybe we should have waited to run our story until Madaffer returned from vacation. Fair point. Maybe we could have done that, but we thought Webb could have put us in touch with Madaffer if the City Council member really wanted to clear up our story. Curlee made it clear to Strumpf, however, that it wasn't for him to say how Strumpf should have done his job.
We, on the other hand, feel no such compunction-we have no problem telling Curlee how to do his job. He should look beyond the details and see the broader story.