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Difficult to convince others you are not out to get them

(Aug. 1, 2014) One of the most difficult things to master in life is the ability to convince other people that you are not, in fact, out to get them. I’ve come to believe that this actually gets harder with age, and the past six weeks have been a case in point.

Please indulge me in an explanation.

This week, we learned that now-former city Planning and Community Development Director Matt Margotta will not be returning to City Hall on Monday, as was expected, for a final month of work prior to what was scheduled as his last day at the end of August.

This is apparently due to the level of media attention Matt’s resignation garnered last week, when The Dispatch also reported his departure and regurgitated, nearly verbatim, our previous weeks’ reporting on a controversy surrounding him – in spite of previous mischaracterization and outright denials, from both that publication and City Manager David Recor, of the accuracy of that reporting.

The opportunity would be ripe for a big “I told you so,” but that’s not what needs to be done here.

Realistically, Matt should not have to be shuffled out through the back door. He could’ve simply admitted that he had some hang-ups, taken some time off to address it, and come back refreshed. It’s been done before.

However, he was not allowed to do so. Instead, Recor stonewalled us for three weeks after the incident. He finally sent us a missive email that, while maintaining that the city should not comment on personnel issues, simultaneously bemoaned that the incident was not reported in the way he wanted it to be.

Now, whether intended or not, it looks like a botched cover-up, and the only politically expedient thing for Recor to do is just quietly dispose of one of his own department heads.

This is the result of a prevailing attitude in City Hall that assumes all relationships with the press are inherently adversarial. The current doctrine is to hide behind the city’s self-imposed taxonomy of “personnel matters” or “legal privilege” – and then get angry once you poke your head out from behind the shield and find that the public discourse has continued on without you, and not to your advantage.

The problem is not exclusive to this newspaper – witness the Daily Times’ struggle to just get a name from a police report.

We – and by “we” I mean the media, although I can only speak directly for myself – are not out for anyone’s neck. But the nature of our job is to know what’s going on – and, for those we report on, it’s almost always advantageous to out ahead of things and contribute to the public dialogue.

It’s not the press being confrontational or adversarial; it’s simply the fact that both parties (should) have a vested interest in making what is already a bad circumstance less unpleasant by clarifying it for the public.

But this can’t happen if one party doesn’t reciprocate – something which, in Ocean City, is par for the course. Matt was the first victim, but unfortunately probably not the last.


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