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Empire editorial: Words have weight, and sometimes consequences

Speaking out before doing one's homework does not make for a compelling argument

Posted: July 18, 2012 - 12:00am

Juneau Assembly member Ruth Danner has every right to express her views. We’re happy to print them as columns or letters to the editor, or when she speaks them during meetings.

Elected officials should also expect that after they have their say the reaction to those words may be opposite and unequal — they may say a few words and get binders and multiple attachments to emails in response. That happens when they use the power of their office to make allegations that can hurt careers, or that call into question the competency of those employed to run the city.

We feel the dustup between Danner and Port Director Carl Uchytil that played out this weekend in the Empire’s news pages was unfortunate but in the end healthier than a festering feud because everyone got their say.

Her own admissions that she hadn’t read all the paperwork provided, and might be dead wrong about her suggestion that Docks and Harbors might be misusing a mismanaged grant, didn’t add a lot of weight to her arguments.

The question now is what should have been said.
The views expressed by Danner, the ones where she said she was being “bullied” by a public employee with an “unprofessional” tone who provided her too much information, seem off-the-charts wrong. If anything, making the matter public and forcing a city employee to defend himself in a newspaper was a heavy-handed tactic that should have been expected to cause a serious reaction.

We don’t mind hosting the arm-wrestling match, but we don’t want to stay for the “pity party” afterward. We think the port director’s response was thorough and professional and charges of bullying and unprofessionalism are ridiculous.

We also think it would have been a very a good idea for Danner to actually read every word of the public employee’s response and all those attachments before firing off a rip-roaring response that, frankly, made Danner look a little silly and rather unprofessional herself.

Politics can be a rough business, and this isn’t the first time that Danner’s strong words have caused friction. A thicker skin is needed on Danner’s part to weather the barbs she will attract if she goes for another term.

It’s good to have a public watchdog on the Assembly who openly questions things. But a watchdog that clearly doesn’t know the difference between a burglar and a chew toy but sends up the alarm nonetheless should expect to spend some time in the figurative doghouse, and perhaps endure a little scolding.

We hope that next time Danner gets her dander up she chooses her words carefully, avoids attributing personal motives to a business-like response and expects that — due to her office and the weight her words have — a serious and perhaps spiky response may be given to tough and undiplomatic questions or assertions.

Words have weight, and sometimes they also have serious consequences. We hope voters will carefully read her words and use them as a road map to their electoral consciences should Danner appear on future ballots.

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