Oliver criticizes PNJ for ‘irresponsible exercise of journalistic license’

Escambia County Randy Oliver has responded the daily newspaper’s criticism that he and the county commission had over stated the financial problems of the county. The editorial board wrote, “The next time the county, or any public body, has a money problem and goes public with it, few are going to believe them. When the public watches a $9 million debt dissolve like aspirin in water, future cries of poverty are not going to be well received.”

Here is Oliver’s response:

“Everything is a matter of perspective as was clearly evidenced in the Pensacola News Journal’s editorial, “The County who cried broke.”

While they are entitled to their opinion, they are not entitled to create their own facts. This editorial was an irresponsible exercise of journalistic license. It is clear that the Pensacola News Journal has its favorites, spins the news to benefit them and that is unfortunate. What happened to “all the news that is fit to print” in an impartial manner? To reference another time-honored parable, even Doubting Thomas believed after being shown clear and irrefutable proof.

The hard fact is that the County’s General Fund budget for fiscal year 2012/2013 was responsibly decreased by $9.6 million to $165 million. If the PNJ believes this balanced budget was achieved without consequence, perhaps they should ask the Sheriff’s Department who absorbed a $1.1 million cut, the other Constitutional officials who saw decreases to their budgets, the outside agencies who took a 5% cut, the transit services that will potentially go away unless additional grants are received or perhaps the county employees who might lose their jobs?

Escambia County has moved through this very difficult and painful budget process with a high level of transparency. We have met with members of the media and have held a number of public meetings in an effort to fully communicate with our residents. We have provided indisputable facts, background materials and independent reports to illustrate the financial constraints Escambia County grappled with in light of the $6.2 million unfunded Medicaid mandate illegally forced on us – in our opinion – by the State of Florida. The response from our “hometown” paper to the potential loss of jobs and service: They didn’t feel further coverage of the story “moved the narrative forward.”

Last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting resulted in a balanced budget without a corresponding loss of service or an increase in taxes. What did the town crier say? Escambia County administrators and officials were branded as liars and accused of making up a crisis.

The opinions expressed in Saturday’s editorial are just that – opinions. And, while everyone is entitled to one, opinions are not necessarily based on fact or reality. Perhaps that is why this editorial expressed a point of view that was in direct contradiction to the journalistic coverage
provided by the PNJ’s own reporters. When forced to deal in facts and unable to hide behind the unsigned cloak of an editorial, they must simply report the news. They are not able to call Escambia County a wolf.

It is time for the editorial staff to operate in the “sunshine” just as Florida governments and the Supreme Court do, rather than using the cowardly guise of an unnamed editorial. Would the Pensacola News Journal print a letter to the editor from an unnamed source? Or would that violate their oft-touted journalistic ethics? What is the difference? The U.S. Supreme Court publishes a majority opinion and, frequently, a minority opinion so the public knows which judges support each. Why is the editorial author a secret that should be hidden from the public?

Doesn’t the public have a right to know who concurred and who dissented? I call on the Pensacola News Journal to become a leader in this day of transparency. I believe the public demands accountability of its local newspaper just as it does from its appointed and elected officials.

Charles R. “Randy” Oliver
County Administrator
(A resident of Escambia County)”