New columnist “true confessions”: More corporate PR than journalism

George Boardman, the Union’s new weekly columnist, has wasted no time confirming he is an Ackerman “mini me.”

Though promising to find a “middle ground,” his blog wastes no time ridiculing my personal appearance and even my business, which unlike (The Stonehouse restaurant his family once ran) is thriving.

Why so petty? Because he doesn’t have anything tangible to grab onto, so he throws rocks from the sidelines.

Though The Union editor praises George’s “career in journalism,” George confesses that he spent “most of working years in corporate public relations.” (He left the word “my” out).

George is already being spun by the hard right, clueless about their tsunami that is about to engulf our local political scene for the 2014 elections, including the “nonpartisan” posts (because he has no “sourcing”).

You can also be sure that Ackerman has a direct pipeline to Boardman’s email “in” box, as he has in the past.

George promises to report from the “center,” though he ridicules the sustainable food movement, laws to protect the transgender community and praises McClintock’s legislation.

So what’s new at The Union? Nothing. Our western county politics is about as toxic as it gets. First Amendment rights are OK — as long as they are like-minded opinions.

Our local newspaper bags ex-publisher “mini me” to write a weekly column — whoo hoo!

UnknownLess than a few days after The Union painted our community as yahoos to the world with sloppy reporting on a “Support Our Troops” sign at a church, the editor is gleefully announcing that George Boardman — a “mini me” of our ex-publisher, in style and substance — will write a weekly column each Monday.

George is a friend of Jeff Ackerman and his glory days of journalism were spent at The Union, though he might have climbed as high up the ladder as the Palo Alto Times. George’s family was involved in running The Stonehouse Restaurant in Nevada City, which closed.

He also worked in PR, often considered a “cop out” for serious journalists, at least in George’s era.

George lives in Lake of the Pines. When I read his columns, I regularly conclude that he should mingle more with Californians — on the Coast or at least in Sacramento or Tahoe.

My main complaint about George is that he’s really average, bouncing around in the minor leagues of journalism without much entrepreneurial achievement, but he pretends to be a real “know it all.”

In fact, he’s guilty of the same common journalism flaw as his friend Ackerman — “jack of all trades, master of none.”

It’s a classic “big fish, small pond” syndrome, “all hat, no cattle,” or a guy who throws rocks from the sidelines but never has won many big games.

I figure The Union brought him onboard to placate the “righty’s” of our community, who complain the new publisher is too soft compared with Ackerman. It came after a “readership survey.” On the hard-right political blogs, one reader has been speculating about another looming management shakeup.

It’s a safe move too. George also is popular with the RL Crabb contingent, many “shifters” and other community old timers. They defend him wholeheartedly, like mother hens.

It’s a big mistake if The Union ever expects to grow its readership — and a classic “inside the box,” “cul de sac” recruit. And to preserve what? The readership is aging and declining.

On George’s blog, you’ll find headlines like “Is ObamaCare on its way to becoming ObamaGeddon?”

Or “Transgender bathrooms? In elementary school?,” where he writes: “But the conservatives have it right with their latest cause, repeal of a new California law that lets transgender students choose which bathrooms and locker rooms to use, and which sports teams to join based on their gender identify.”

George also thinks Tom McClintock’s bill to salvage timber — widely criticized by knowledgeable environmentalists — “should be given serious consideration.”

You can also read George making fun of real-food author Michael Pollan when he came to town, while also belittling the sustainable food movement — even though it is gaining traction in our community.

“GM crops have helped ensure food security and bolster incomes for farmers, and better GM crops are in the pipeline. Billions of people are leading longer, healthier lives since the commercialization of GM foods over 17 year ago,” he wrote.

George also likes to bring up the old saw that healthier food costs more. “Duh”! as he would put it. “Organic? Eat a Big Mac and pocket the change,” he writes.

George likes to make fun of our County officials, referring to their “clueless comments” but again, I’d cringe to think of him executing any county responsibilities. Talk is cheap.

He also was a business writer but shows a poor understanding of Silicon Valley’s role in propelling our state economy out of the recession, using trite phrases such as “irrational exuberance.”

George makes fun of Netflix, which would have made him a bundle if he’d bought the stock instead of made fun of it.

Like Ackerman, George has a chip on his shoulder and is insecure around people who are smarter or more successful than he is.

Congratulations to The Union! It is starting off the new year taking a giant step back to the days of its ex-publisher. And drawing a smaller circle around itself.

Scoop: The Union’s FOI lawsuit cost our schools about $17,000 to defend — legal fees will come from district’s general fund

The Union’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit has cost our schools about $17,000 to defend, and the money will come out of the Nevada Joint Union High School District’s general operating budget to pay for it, Sierra Foothills Report has learned.

We calculated the legal tab from our own FOI request, and Karen Suenram, assistant superintendent of business services at NJUSHD, confirmed that the fees will come out of the district’s general coffers.

“Hi Jeff – You are correct,” Suenram said in an email. “The expense is currently close to $17,000. The District’s insurance does not cover this type of legal expense. The money will come from the District’s general operating budget. – Karen.”

Earlier this month, Sierra Foothills Report sent a public records request to the Nevada Joint Union High School District to find out what The Union’s recent FOI lawsuit against the District cost our schools — at a time of tight school budgets and cutbacks.

The Union lost the suit, as previously reported. We felt the FOI suit was misguided, because there was no “smoking gun” documents in the termination of Superintendent Marianne Cartan’s contract, just an honest professional disagreement about performance. It happens.

A judge agreed with the District’s position.

The incident cast a light on The Union’s lack of sourcing in its beat reporting more than anything else. Now the financial consequences — a $17,000 legal bill for our schools — are surfacing.

Our FOI request turned up the legal tab in detailed invoices: one for $14,790.76 in June and other for $2,100.46 in May for a grand total of $16,891.

We suspect our own FOI request will add some cost to the total as well and apologize for that. (We’ll match our cost with a donation to a high-school fundraiser, we told Suenram).

Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, from Fresno, who handled the FOI case, are billing at the rate of $175 an hour — a reasonable enough rate. The case sucked up almost 100 hours in legal time. We’re not surprised.

Examples include a $43.75 bill for a telephone call to The Union’s City Editor regarding The Union’s petition for writ of mandate. The district also paid $43.75 for the law firm to “read and review The Union’s article re: filing of petition for preemptory writ against the district.”

Case research gobbled up most of the time.

A detailed invoice an introductory letter to Sierra Foothills Report totaling 21 pages can be read here:
Pelline Response to Public Records Act Request-1

The Union publisher/editor sues local family in tragic incident

Jeff Ackerman, the publisher/editor of The Union, has filed a civil lawsuit against Jim Knight of Lake Wildwood, alleging “bodily injury and emotional distress” involving an incident that occurred at the newspaper on Oct. 20, according to public documents on file in Nevada County Superior Court.

Ackerman is seeking $1 million in punitive damages, including $250,000 for “pain, suffering and inconvenience” $250,000 for “emotional distress” and $3,200 for “medical expenses,” according to the documents.

The $1 million claim “adds insult to injury,” said Brad Thomas, Knight’s lawyer, who claims “willful and wanton conduct on (Ackerman’s) own part proximately caused and contributed to the happening of the incident in question.”

Thomas said he was referring to a column Ackerman wrote on Oct. 20 about the death of Knight’s daughter. “It’s tough to keep a 17-year-old’s death by heroin overdose a secret, try as some might to put a pretty picture on it,” the column said in part. Knight is the golf pro at Lake Wildwood.

Knight’s response also claims “(Ackerman) initially attacked (Knight) and if, in fact, defendant committed any assault on plaintiff, said action was performed to protect the person and property of the defandant and was performed in self defense.”

The actual amount of damages in the case will be “according to proof,” however, said Craig Diamond, Ackerman’s lawyer.

The lawsuit was filed on Nov. 20, and Knight’s wife later was served with the complaint at their home after two previous attempts failed, according to court documents. Knight responded to the allegations on Jan. 22.

No one in the local media — The Union, KNCO, KVMR, the Nevada City Advocate or Yubanet — has reported on the case, though it is a matter of public record and civil legal cases are routinely reported in the media.

“I have no idea,” Diamond answered as to why the case had not been covered in the media. “I’m not the decider.”

Some friends of Knight family members have attempted to contact the local media, including KNCO, KVMR and Yubanet, to tell their story — but without any success, according to a Facebook page they created. (The details are on the posts).

Thomas said Knight was fully aware that the case was a matter of public record and that he might be identified.

A case management conference for the case (75539) is set for April 5 at the county courthouse.

Ackerman’s column was titled “Heroin menace lurks within our midst.”

It began: “A 17-year-old Penn Valley girl died of a heroin overdose one recent Sunday morning, and four days later Grass Valley police raided a home on Doris Drive, where they arrested 10 people for selling, using or trying to buy heroin.

“I connect the two because I think there’s a connection.

“This is a small town and you hear things. It’s tough to keep a 17-year-old’s death by heroin overdose a secret, try as some might to put a pretty picture on it.”

On The Union’s website some readers complained it was insensitive and unnecessary to include the information. Others alleged it was incorrect or inconclusive.

“How could you do this to a family that is obviously in pain?” one reader wrote on The Union’s site.

According to a Grass Valley police report on Oct. 20, there were “multiple reports advising of an employee who was just assaulted by a male subject wearing a red sweatshirt” at The Union’s offices.

“Contact was made at The Union who declined (a citizen’s arrest). Knight was admonished not to return or face trespassing,” according to the blotter item.

The Union reported the police blotter item but no more details.

“Defendant Jim Knight, intentionally and without justifiable cause struck plaintiff Jeffrey Ackerman, causing him to fall to the ground,” according to the complaint. “As a result of the conduct of the defendant, the plaintiff suffered bodily injury and emotional distress.”

Knight’s complaint said, “by reason of the doctrine of comparative negligence, plaintiff is barred from recovery, in whole and/or in part, of such portion of said damages, if any, as proximately resulted from the aforementioned conduct.”

The county district attorney has not pressed any charges over the incident.

UPDATE: I posted the legal documents here based on reader requests. This story is based on publicly available court documents, as well as interviews with the attorneys from both sides. Anybody can get copies of such documents at the county courthouse or (in the case of the police blotter item) at the Grass Valley police department. This is not “investigative journalism” — it is routine police/court reporting.