Nancy Otto told me today she didn't want to be a guest on my radio show to talk about a Facebook post made by fellow Moorhead city council member Chuck Hendrickson.
"I don't want to make this into a big deal," she said in declining an on-air interview.
Hmm. That is interesting. Because it was Otto who told the largest newspaper between the Twin Cities and Seattle it should check out Hendrickson's Facebook timeline because of something he posted on it. She also provided an e-mail thread between council members that outlined councilman Mike Hulett's "outrage" over Hendrickson's post.
The Forum reporter, Erik Burgess, followed up on the tip and e-mail and turned it into a story that ended up on the front page of a paper with a daily circulation of about 45,000. It also ended up on the Forum's web site, which (according to the newspaper) got 10.6 million page views in January.
But Otto doesn't want to turn this into a big deal.
It's a little late for that, isn't it Nancy? You know, since you're the one who turned it into a big story in the first place?
"It was already out there in the public," she said. "So I didn't really make it into a story. It was already out there."
Yeah, sure, because reporters often troll small-town city councilmen's social media accounts looking for controversial stuff. Because they have nothing better to do. Yeah, that's the ticket.
No, it is not. Nancy Otto was the troll, with an assist from Hulett, and her actions have embarrassed Moorhead.
Hendrickson, a first-time council member who has been on the job barely more than one month, made a stupid decision to post a link to an article by an organization called Liberals Unite. The article, titled "WARNING to U.S. Citizens," paints Republicans in an extremely negative light, saying Americans should "fear" them. It also uses words like "bullying," "dictators" and compares Republicans to "a cult that brainwashes ignorant citizens."
Fellow council member Mari Dailey wrote a comment under the post saying, "Amen!" That was a bad decision by Dailey. She is also a rookie on the council, but should have known better.
Despite the fact Republicans and right-wingers have been engaging in name-calling and fear-mongering about Democrats for years, it was a dumb, rookie mistake by Hendrickson. Moorhead city council seats are non-partisan and Hendrickson should have been aware posting anything on Facebook is there for the world to see. In this case, apparently, Hulett or somebody who knew Hulett saw Hendrickson's post. Hulett sent an e-mail to the council expressing his displeasure.
Otto then tipped off Burgess and provided a copy of Hulett's e-mail. When interviewed by Burgess, Otto said: "It creates division when we really should be trying our best to not be polarizing at the council level."
So Otto, in trying to not to be polarizing, provided all the ammo to a newspaper reporter to write an article that split the council in two. Makes sense, no?
There were ways to handle this that would have been more professional, and most important, better for the citizens of Moorhead.
Hulett could have called Hendrickson and offered some grandfatherly advice to a rookie: "Hey, kid, take down that post. Take it from somebody who wrote nasty, polarizing letters to the editor years ago that helped cost me the mayor's seat last fall, those things can come back to haunt you." He chose instead to write an e-mail to council members.
Otto could have filed the e-mail, called Hendrickson and said, "Chuck, please take down the Facebook post. I find it inappropriate for a council member to post something that partisan." She chose instead to drag down the entire council and the entire city of Moorhead.
Hendrickson made a mistake, but Otto's and Hulett's actions have embarrassed Moorhead by airing dirty laundry that didn't need to by aired. Their actions have divided the council. Hendrickson and Dailey can no longer trust Otto and Hulett. We don't know where the other two councilors veteran Brenda Elmer and rookie Jim Haney stand on the issue, but I figure this was an eye-opener for Haney.
Otto's decisons to go to the media with this have again made Moorhead and its city council look amateurish and dysfunctional.
And right at this particular moment, it would be hard to mount a defense against that perception.
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