An Open Letter to Our Readers

When I first began my tenure as editor of these newspapers on the first day of 2008, we set forth a number of goals for our newspapers. Some of these are still works in progress, and some of these have been great successes. A shining example of the latter would have to be our efforts to receive and publish more letters from the community than ever before. What, I asked a staff comprised entirely of people many years my elder, would be the point in initiating interest in community news amongst our readers if we were not equally as interested in their input as we wished them to be in ours.
Months later, the plan seemed to be working. After putting forward our best attempts at coverage of and pieces of interest to the communities we strive to serve, the letters rolled in, at times filling nearly all of page three. Some of these letters were praiseful; others were critical and even mean-spirited. Regardless, we proudly printed them all.
All this being said, it seems to me – and must as well to many of our prior critics – bizarre beyond words that on Monday of this week John Crawford’s blog published a letter that “was originally intended for mailing to The Sierra Madre Weekly and publication there. But as that publication has shown itself to be an unreliable and unprofessional venue, it was forwarded to The Tattler by Mayor MacGillivray for publication here instead.”
The fact that a letter addressed specifically to our newspaper would not be sent to our office and would instead be forwarded to a politically-motivated blog not by its anonymous author(s), but by the person whom the letter makes its subject is, to say the least, strange, and for the personal reasons I have formerly explained, disappointing.
In fact, were it not for this past week’s onslaught of threatening (and anonymous) phone calls to our office by a select few of Sierra Madre’s more politically-active citizens, we may not have even known that the letter existed or that this response was warranted.
So it is with some concern that this action may reopen civic wounds I believe most residents would prefer left to heal, that I will now move to address specifically the text of the blog post and letter in question.
Borrowing a quote from the election coverage printed in our April 15th, 2010 edition, the author of this letter challenges three particular assertions made by Father Michael Bamberger: (1) That the city council at the time of the 1991 earthquake, which included current Mayor Maryann MacGillivray, failed to declare a state of emergency in due time, (2) that councilmember MacGillivray returned to an out-of-town summit after tending to the damage at her own home, and (3) that these actions by Mrs. MacGillivray irreparably damaged his opinion of her as a city leader worthy of reelection.
This first assertion, as is stated in the letter and has been confirmed with the help of the wonderful staff of the Sierra Madre Public Library and their microfilm archives, is, according to the late Sierra Madre News, untrue.
Indeed, the July 4th, 1991 issue of said newspaper contains a story, headlined “City damages equal $12.5 million”, which says in the second paragraph that “Sierra Madre City Council and Los Angeles County declared a state of emergency that same day [of the earthquake]”.
Three paragraphs later, that same article says that the newspaper had contacted the office of then-Governor Pete Wilson whose spokesman said that “the governor is still waiting to gather all the data from the Office of Emergency Services” and that “There is a false sense that by declaring a state of emergency, money would flow”. But the spokesman said that this was “not the case” and that a rushed declaration would be “akin to declaring marshal law without going through the normal steps”. The paper then reported that the spokesman said that ‘the governor may or may not declare Sierra Madre and its foothill neighbors in a state of emergency’.
Additionally, then-Police Chief Bill Betts told the paper that he was disappointed in the governor’s apparent delay in an emergency declaration.
Even Mr. Bamberger himself is later quoted in the story, citing “significant structural damage to the bell tower and the south wall” of his Church of the Ascension building.
The frustration among the citizenry and even journalists with the delay in a state-level response to the emergency is palpable in nearly every line of the story.
Can Mr. Bamberger be forgiven for misremembering and in turn misplacing frustration and blame onto the wrong level of government nearly 20 years after such a traumatic event?
I leave that to your individual discretion.
The second assertion, that Mrs. MacGillivray returned, along with the rest of the city council, to a conference 114 miles away in Rancho Bernardo the following day, is, by this letter’s own admission, absolutely true. Thus, for this, a pardon of Mr. Bamberger’s words is unnecessary.
The third point in Mr. Bamberger’s statement is that this action by Mrs. MacGillivray was something of which he did not approve, and that it had significantly diminished his respect for her as a laudable city leader. Again, disagree if you wish, but a man is entitled to his own opinion and the right to exercise that opinion at the polls, as well as in the press.
To be sure, the factual error by Mr. Bamberger is regrettable. For as this paper intended to offer a quote from an elated supporter of a victorious candidate, what was printed inadvertently aided a small but influential group in their inexorable and anonymous campaign against I truly know not what, but what many have thus far, and I will now call “civility”.
Below, I will sign this letter with my name, as we do every week in our newspapers. Because of the hard work we put into this labor of love each Thursday, I know of nothing on earth that can provide a greater sense of pride and accountability.
Unfortunately, it was not until our staff made numerous requests of the Tattler blog that a list of signatories was added to the bottom of the letter posted Monday. After the list was posted, we spoke with one of these signatories who said that they had been contacted and asked for permission to use their name to lend credence to the effort. This person said that they had agreed to the request, despite having not read the letter.
Still, the true author of the letter remains anonymous. And it is to this person that I would like to suggest they taste, if only just this once, the pride and accountability of which I earlier spoke so highly.


John Stephens
Editor, Sierra Madre Weekly

April 29, 2010

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