The Tallahassee Democrat has suddenly made the agonizing decision to put their investigative resources into explaining the business relationships between City Commissioner Scott Maddox and Downtown Improvement Authority Executive Director Paige Carter-Smith.
It is amazing how bold and righteous the executives at the local paper can get when a few FBI subpoenas are dropped at city hall.
But in my view, the Tallahassee Democrat should just stop writing about City Commissioner Scott Maddox and his long-time business associate Paige Carter-Smith and let the legal process unfold.
Yes, you heard that right. Just stop! Now!
The fact is the Tallahassee Democrat has known about the real estate transactions between Maddox and Carter-Smith for years. The Democrat has had numerous opportunities, before the FBI came to town, to raise questions about these real estate deals, but they chose not to.
I am sure they agonized over each decision.
But each time – under different publishers and editors – the brain trust on Magnolia Drive in charge of holding local government accountable fell in line behind their advertisers and the political insiders and just looked the other way.
The real estate deals were, well, no big deal!
And now the FBI shows up and the Tallahassee Democrat is trying to act like “Woodward and Bernstein” by burning the midnight oil to reveal facts that have been a part of the public record for years.
It is embarrassing to see the pandering to such an educated citizenry: “Hey look, we found a questionable transaction from 2010!”
Consider these two examples.
In 2012, when Maddox ran for the city commission, the Tallahassee Democrat reporter Jeff Burlew did a story on Maddox real estate transactions. After his report, Tallahassee Democrat Editor at the time, Bob Gabordi, wrote:
Unlike other media reporters, Burlew — a veteran reporter who on Saturday won the Gold Medal for Public Service reporting from the Florida Society of News Editors along with a first place for investigative reporting — did not simply run with a story based on what Penny Herman and Erwin Jackson were saying about Maddox’s land deals.
Guess what? There was no mention in Burlew’s reporting about Paige Carter-Smith, Governance Services, or Adams Street.
The property records were the same then as they are now – what changed? Why no details on transactions in 2009, 2010, 2011 & 2012?
An agonizing decision, I’m sure!
And more recently, in May of 2016, Tallahassee Democrat reporter Tamaryn Waters wrote a biographical article about Carter-Smith when she was appointed to the Downtown Improvement Authority (DIA).
And even though the DIA is a taxing authority that relies on the city commission for approval of funding levels, the article completely ignored the real estate transactions between Paige Carter-Smith and City Commissioner Scott Maddox.
Another agonizing decision!
It is obvious the Tallahassee Democrat is not going to expose unethical or possibly corrupt behavior of those they seek to protect – unless subpoenas are dropped.
It is just too uncomfortable!
So do not expect to read about Nancy Miller’s brother-in-law getting city contracts from the city department Miller’s husband works for.
Do not expect to read about the city employee given a $47,000 job that was not advertised after approving a $5,000 discount at the Edison restaurant for City Manager Rick Fernandez’s immediate family.
Do not expect to read about the city employee who has come forward with emails and text messages supporting her accusation that Commissioner Miller rigged a bid for a friend.
I could go on, but you get the point?
No matter what the FBI investigation finds, it is my view the Tallahassee Democrat has failed this community. And now our city is beginning to bear the brunt of their failures.
If the paper of record had carried out their journalistic responsibilities over the last 10-15 years, maybe the FBI would not have descended upon Tallahassee.
Instead, the Gannett paper has focused on generating revenue for shareholders who do not live in Tallahassee at the expense of holding our local government accountable.
It is unfortunate for Tallahassee, because our community deserves the full benefits of democracy, which requires a free and independent press.
In the words of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Hugo Black, “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”
So please, leave Scott Maddox and Paige Carter-Smith alone. You had your chance. Now the FBI will sort out any deception that might have existed.