The Union’s new publisher is a registered GOPer, voter rolls show

Jim Hemig, the new publisher of The Union, has been putting together an editorial board with some polarizing political personalities, such as Stan Meckler and CABPRO member Norm Sauer.

Norm, along with other Agenda 21 foes and CABPRO supporters, spoke at the Supes meeting this week, speaking out against sending a letter to Gov. Brown to weigh in with the Feds on local fire protection. Norm’s a regular on such issues. The Supes disagreed — and should have. Local tea-partier Meckler had been seeking a seat on the editorial board. Others are “progressives” but don’t resort to such high-pitched, negative rhetoric.

But what are Publisher Jim’s politics? He’s a registered Republican, according to the voter rolls, which are public information.

Jim is a longtime member of the Swift management team. (Jeff Ackerman is still on that team). Most of the past publishers of The Union have leaned to the right, or far right — not left. The Ingrams, who used to own the paper, are staunch conservatives. So is Jack Moorhead, a former publisher.

One local joked that being a conservative might be part of the job description for publisher of The Union.

In the past, the newspaper’s management has teamed up with the Contractors PAC and longtime conservative business people to support like-minded local candidates. It’s an open secret.

Let’s hope Jim can break with the past and show some real nonpartisan spirit. After all, the voter roles are “purple.” The Union also has to attract new readers.

Hemig was a speaker at the local tea party’s general membership meeting this week. He’s spoken to local Democrat groups too.

I’ve been disappointed with the treatment of Democrat Jim Firth in The Union’s pages and wonder if Terry Lamphier is next.

In Truckee, a more “progressive” newspaper called Moonshine Ink has been challenging the Swift-owned newspapers. It is generating most of the buzz.

For the record, I’ve been a “decline to state” voter since I was 18 and have voted for Democrats and Republicans.

Good luck Jim!

Bashing farm-to-fork in our local newspaper

BriarPatch donates chickens to feed the homeless (Photo: Tony Finnerty)
BriarPatch donates chickens to feed the homeless (Photo: Tony Finnerty)

The Union continues to show it has a lock on the curmudgeon and ignorant demographic with a mind-boggling column by George Boardman, its paid weekly columnist, in this morning’s newspaper. A parody website now calls this guy “Bored Georgeman” – no wonder.

This time The Union columnist manages to ridicule the newspaper’s readers in Nevada City, along with the local farmers, farms and businesses who produce or sell local and organic food (including the BriarPatch and Michael Funk’s United Natural Foods) — all in one swipe.

“The vast majority of feed given to dairy cows in the U.S. is made from GMO corn, soybeans and alfalfa, and 80 percent of packaged foods contain GMOs,” Boardman writes.

“It’s unlikely any of this concerned our neighbors who gathered recently on Commercial Street in Nevada City to indulge themselves at the second annual Farm to Table Banquet, a celebration of the local effort to produce organic food and a benefit for the Commercial Street Music Fund and music for the First Friday Art Walk. This year’s meal, which featured a flat-iron steak (grass-fed, of course), was priced at $75 a plate, plus an 18 percent gratuity and a $5.86 fee on top of that — over $94 to dine on an asphalt surface infused with grease and oil. Alcohol was extra.

“The prices reflect in part the willingness of people to pay the premium required to be a righteous eater, a premium that moves down the food chain. Being holier than thou commands a premium of 20 percent to more than 100 percent, according to price surveys done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other organizations.”

Here are the facts: Besides being a fundraiser (at a price comparable to other local fundraisers), the banquet supported our local farms, farmers and small businesses: Nevada County Free Range Beef, Riverhill, Blue Bird, First Rain, Dinner Bell, Soil Sisters, Super Tuber and Mountain Bounty, among others. The participating restaurants included Matteo’s Public, Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co., Nevada City Winery, Treats Ice Cream and The Fix. (The Fix is owned by the family of our local Olympic hero, Evan Strong).

The banquet was a sellout for the second straight year. It was a great community accomplishment; others would struggle to match it.

Boardman concludes: “So when the time comes, forego that hand-crafted peach, gorgonzola, bacon pizza and donate the cost to a food bank. You’ll find the act nourishes your soul.”

In fact, the same people participating in the banquet do just that!

BriarPatch regularly has donated organic chicken — 1,000 pounds of it at once — to the Food Bank of Nevada County to help feed the hungry.

So does United Natural Foods Inc., founded by local resident Michael Funk of Nevada City. The details are here and here. The BriarPatch also gave a grant.

The Food Bank is one of few food banks that offer organic and sustainably grown products.

But wait, there’s more. Nevada Union High is now offering fresh food from local farms in the school cafeteria. “We are working closely with local farms to secure produce that is grown locally and regionally; this means students can expect colorful summer vegetables when they begin the school year, crisp apples as they enter autumn and savory root vegetables as they turn the corner into winter,” the school writes.

More details are here.

All told more locals, including the homeless, are eating organic products, much of it produced by locals. What’s wrong with that?

The community-wide complaint about Boardman is that he never does his homework, shooting from the hip with strident views.

Picking extreme views does not create balance

The Union continues to open itself to endless back-and-forth sniping in our community with ignorant columns like this, but it doesn’t end there:

Here’s an example from this morning of what we can expect from The Union’s new editorial board: Tea party supporter Nancy Garcia rebutting progressive Nancy Eubanks’ column: “Whose freedom is being tread on”?

As reader Greg Zaller wrote here on the weekend:

“I posted this comment on The Union comment site:

“(Publisher) Jim (Hemig), it appears that your premise is that by picking the most extreme views it will create balance, to which I don’t agree. Extremeness is not a point of view. If you seek balance then you will need to find people who experience the different conditions people face in this county, instead of its newsworthy activists.

“It would be most interesting if you developed a second editorial board, as I described, and let the two write side by side editorials. I doubt that my suggested board representing actual segments of this community would agree closely with your ‘balanced’ board.”

“Back to the future” in The Union: Contractors’ PAC leader Allen rips on Council Candidate Firth without rebuttal

Contractors' PAC Chairman Allen
Contractors’ PAC Chairman Allen
Jim Firth
Jim Firth
Publisher Hemig wrote: "Are you a good old boy:?
Publisher Hemig wrote: “Are you a good old boy”?

“The local politics are so nasty because the stakes are so small.” — A former colleague of mine at The Union

We can’t seem to shake the discussion of the “good old boys” network in our community this week. The people who dismiss it keep bringing it up — albeit it with their own spin. And there’s no rebuttal presented alongside it.

A one-sided discussion culminated on Friday with a nasty-toned column directed at Grass Valley City Council Candidate Jim Firth by Contractors’ PAC Chairman Keoni Allen in our “community newspaper,” The Union. Allen also praised Publisher Jim Hemig’s column titled “Are you a good old boy” as “excellent.” In fact, Hemig exacerbated the debate without providing much substance to the real concerns raised about tolerating multiple political views, backgrounds and experiences in a small town.

This morning Hemig deflected attention on the debate with a generous “Shop Local” column, pointing out that he bought furniture at Ashley’s Furniture Home Store. (We also bought furniture at Ashley’s predecessor, Hedman’s). Taken together, Allen’s column and Hemig’s send a peculiar message of praise and blame on the Op-Ed page — but both are to the newspaper’s own benefit.

To me, we have returned to the Jeff Ackerman era at The Union where political foes are “called out” in the newspaper, and the pages become a “bully pulpit.” Civil discourse is being thrown out the window at The Union, and it just rekindles perceptions of a “good old boys” network.

Allen signed his column as a “contractor, business owner and chamber of commerce” member, but The Union did not mention he is the Political Action Committee chairman of the Nevada County Contractors Association. (For its part, The Union ought to be reporting more on this PAC and its donations, just like others).

Allen’s scathing column was titled “Who is Jim Firth?” It was just like the one he wrote about Terry Lamphier in his race against Dan Miller, which also ran in The Union. That one was titled “Sometimes the Truth Hurts.”

Both were negative campaign ads against the candidates, who happen to be Democrats. At least in the one directed at Lamphier, Allen signed his name as “Keoni Allen, who lives in Grass Valley, is chairman of the Nevada County Contractors Association Political Action Committee.” That’s the truth.

Beason’s experience with the Contractors in McGuire campaign

The Democrats are not alone in feeling attacked by prominent members of the Contractors Association. Earlier this week, District 1 Supervisor Nate Beason, a moderate Republican, reminded voters that he also has felt their sting.

During a hearing on Tuesday on the Outdoor Event Ordinance, a resident speaking before the board suggested the Contractors Association wielded undue influence in our county’s decision making.

Beason made a point to remind the speaker that he too had felt the wrath of the Contractors Association. Indeed he had.

Nate was referring to his 2012 race against tea-party candidate Sue McGuire, who had the support of leading members of the Contractors Association, including Allen and Bruce Ivy.

Their endorsements showed up on McGuire’s website and a full page ad that ran in a special section of The Union about the election — on the inside cover, no less. It also included vocal supporters of the tea party, among others.

During the campaign, Nate felt he was being unfairly singled out for approving a decision to support an airport safety plan at the Nevada County Airport as a member of the Airport Land Use Commission. Ed Scofield voted for the plan, along with Nate. Grass Valley Council Member Dan Miller also sat on the Commission.

As a result, a lawsuit was filed by the City of Grass Valley and developers/real estate speculators — “seven people,” including Allen and Ivy— over the airport safety plan approved by the Commission. The lawsuit led to some real political friction. Details are here. The suit later was dropped.

photo-11251The Beason-McGuire campaign got nasty. The negative campaigning also came to my neighborhood. Signs popped up reading “So Nate, aren’t 2 terms enough???”

No one knew who put up the signs, but Nate had his suspicions.

Beason won the race, but it created some hard feelings.

Miller-Lamphier and political leaders of the Contractors Association

Flash forward to this spring’s District 3 Supervisor race, where Miller was challenging Terry Lamphier.

This time, “It’s Miller Time” campaign signs were hung over the “nonpartisan” Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center. This time, we knew who hung the signs.

It was the Chamber building’s landlord, which includes Allen’s Sierra Pacific Construction.

1979659_490096684430298_1668970563_n111“To be sure, many people in our community are upset about the issue,” as I wrote at the time. “Some are supporters of incumbent Terry Lamphier for District 3 supervisor in June, but others were just hoping for better business judgment. They’ve cited it as an example of political bullying. Some people also feel betrayed, because they worked so hard to help the Chamber in its effort to sign up new members since its ‘reorganization.’

The Union also wrote about the incident. In this race, Miller unseated Lamphier. The negative campaigning worked.

Now Lamphier and Firth are running for Council, challenging incumbent Jason Fouyer and Jerri Glover, a volunteer at the Chamber.

Judging from the barbs, it’s going to be a long campaign season; the election isn’t until November 4. As for The Union, it needs take ownership for not letting the campaigns turn into a “mudpit” on its own pages.


Why can’t The Union columnist Boardman get public officials to talk to him?

I feel sorry for subscribers of The Union. As it turns out, the community newspaper’s weekly columnist and member of The Union’s editorial board can’t find a way to get our local public officials to talk to him — in a small town, no less.

“When contacted by The Union, Supt. Louise Johnson and two trustees declined to comment, and the district has yet to respond formally to the report,” George writes in his column this morning.

“(School board trustee) Klauer didn’t respond to a request for comment,” he adds.

Inside the “sausage factory” of journalism, this one-way street of communications is a “red flag” to editors that a staffer, or in this case, a columnist has a reputation for being unfair.

It means it’s time for “sit down” to discuss news-gathering practices.

I guess The Union’s management hasn’t got the memo. But if they’re worried about their community perception and relevancy, they ought to ask around. It’s becoming an open secret.


The Union’s curmudgeon columnist: A farm-to-table movement moron

UnknownThe Union dug a deep hole for itself when it hired George Boardman to be its weekly columnist, as I’ve written before. He’s the poster boy for the newspaper’s declining, aging demographic. Until it dumps George, it won’t grow readership. Not a chance.

In the latest example, George trashes the farm-to-fork movement to improve healthy eating in our schools. Under the headline “Here’s something else the government can’t do for you,” George’s thesis is that the “farm-to-fork movement may be trendy and organic may be growing in popularity” but the government should ignore all this. He even wrote this: “Kids in Georgia love their friend chicken.”

Boardman concludes: “And when you attend the county fair in August, make sure your children are accompanied by a responsible adult when they visit Treat Street.”

In fact, George is ignorant about some nationally recognized programs in our own community, insulting its organizers and supporters with his ignorant column.

For example: “Sierra Harvest’s Farm to School program connects 16 schools and partner farms, reaching over 5000 students and 82% of the K-8 population in Western Nevada County with;
• Farm field trips
• School produce stands
• Classroom visits by chefs and farmers and
• Monthly tastings of seasonal produce in over 200 classrooms.

“‘When the guest chef came in with crates of raw kale, I was skeptical, I thought, ‘they are never going to go for this’, but at the end of the day, kids were asking for seconds and thirds of kale salad. One 8th grader exclaimed, ‘If my mom made kale like this, I would eat it every night’! Michelle Mc Daniel, Teacher.”

Another example: “The end of the year has arrived for our local schools…..after a wonderful year of learning about growing food, how to cook and eat healthy, fresh food and the importance of caring for our bodies, it was so inspiring to see these Deer Creek students celebrate the end of the year by harvesting a fresh salad from the school garden!

“We can’t wait for 2013/14 school year when we can make even more progress with Live Healthy Nevada County’s Farm to School Programs! Until then…..go play in the dirt!”

Congratulations to The Union for another “shooting yourself in the foot award.”

Meanwhile, the community and its farm-to-table movement is thriving – and making The Union look more and more irrelevant.

The Union columnist Boardman: shooting blanks again

The Union has long been a lapdog for our community, promoting the “old boys” network. Keeping the western county small and insular has benefitted the newspaper and the “old boys,” because they can control the message and, in their minds, influence local policymaking. It’s a selfish strategy. The internet is changing this, however.

Worse is when The Union tries to be a “watchdog.” It often just doesn’t have the “journalistic chops.” Instead, it falls back on the “don’t argue with people who buy ink by the barrel” mantra, increasingly irrelevant nowadays amid new competition.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with The Union’s weekly columnist George Boardman, who epitomizes a small-town journalist “shooting blanks.” He’s become a running joke in some circles around town because like Former Union Columnists such as Russ Steele and George Rebane (known to some locals as the “FUCs”), he’s not interested in the truth, just an ideology. (“Dumb bureaucrats” is one of Boardman’s favorite themes).

These “bureaucrats,” by the way, increasingly are asking to meet with The Union’s management to express their displeasure with the newspaper’s ignorant reporting.

For whatever reason, The Union’s “stock-in-trade” has become turning its pages over to the uninformed like Boardman, telling the rest of us “what we think we should know.” It’s why The Union’s demographics match its readers — aging and declining. George isn’t just a weekly columnist, either. He’s been a member of “The Union’s advisory board,” supposedly a brain trust for information.

Boardman’s blog this morning (promoted in this mornings print pages of The Union) is a case in point. It is titled “Bureaucrats will tell you what they think you should know” and manages to insult a whole slew of them — but without informing us. Memo to Publisher Jim Hemig: What’s the ROI on Boardman?

Insults our clerk-recorder with a “Where’s Waldo” reference

George takes aim at:

•High-school district Superintendent Louise Johnson
•High-school trustee Richard Baker
•Clerk-Recorder Gregory Diaz, whom he insulted with a caption, “Where’s Waldo.”

When it comes to the schools, George is upset that the Superintendent or Trustees won’t discuss personnel issues, though it happens to be the law. The Union lost an FOI lawsuit in a related case, costing the district $17,000 to defend.

In this instance, the handwriting is on the wall at the school district, but The Union just doesn’t like the answer. The district is struggling with issues such as longterm accreditation and declining enrollment, and it is changing management to achieve that — just like all businesses do, including The Union. Duh.

In the issue of the clerk-recorder’s office, Boardman would have been better off to just publish Diaz’ statement regarding a delay in mailing of ballots because of a printing error. It would have been more informative. The Union also has a habit of “interpreting” and getting it wrong.

Boardman also is incorrect in alleging a lack of transparency in this issue. I know this firsthand: I had the same brief discussion with the assistant-clerk recorder and got all my questions answered, including the name of the printer.

Write about the El Dorado County supe who’s on trial

Instead, Boardman ought to be picking on a “bureaucrat” such as El Dorado County Supervisor Ray Nutting, a property rights advocate and tea-party hero who also happens to be on trial for felony charges. A jury is deliberating his fate this week. Nutting faces four felony counts stemming from roughly $70,000 in state grants he was awarded to clear brush on his private property.

“The prosecution of the veteran timber rancher, a stout defender of private property rights and a hero to tea party conservatives, is revealing angry divisions within the local Republican Party faithful and deep-rooted antagonisms in a county long known for its bare-knuckled politics,” as the Bee has reported.

For its part, The Union is at a crossroads and struggling to find the talent it needs to grow its business in the age of the internet.

Campaign ads that masquerade as letters to the editor — and even raise libel concerns

Editor’s note: I’m often distressed at The Union’s policy for vetting letters to editor, especially during the election season. The one below is a prime example. My comments are in italics.

“Miller is My Choice for Supervisor

“Having recently moved to California and settled in Grass Valley, I have been eager to get involved in my community and to get to know my elected officials. The ongoing District 3 race for county supervisor has me intrigued, to say the least.

“Being a lifelong Democrat and a newly minted registered voter in California, my early assumption was that I would be supporting Terry Lamphier for District 3 supervisor. However, after reading the ‘Nevada County Candidates Take in Big Bucks’ story in the March 24 edition of The Union,

“I’m very concerned about Mr. Lamphier’s willingness to take money ($5,000 to be exact) from the developer of the Rincon Del Rio Housing Project, given his elected position. To say that that is a conflict of interest is, in my opinion, a huge understatement.

Context: Whoa! The Union, no less, has reported, “the contribution was not timed to coincide with the project approval, which was done in April. The subsequent litigation and settlement negotiations were handled by lawyers, with little or no input from the supervisors.” This needs to be acknowledged somehow.

“It appears that Mr. Lamphier can be bought for pennies on the dollar, which leaves me with much doubt as to his ability to be an effective and sound elected official.

Context: Wow! Alleging that Lamphier “can be bought for pennies on the dollar” is a red-flag word. Red-flag words like this open the door to libel. It is astounding that The Union allowed this to run, without a comment from Lamphier or clarification of its own. Letters need to be reviewed by editors (and in some cases lawyers) and returned to the letter writer for revisions, if needed. It is standard operating procedure at major newspapers.

That being said, come June, I will be casting my first vote in a California election for Mr. Dan Miller for District 3 supervisor.

Context: So now the damage has been done, in this case painting Lamphier in a false light and putting him on the defensive about whether to respond or not. It is sloppy op-ed page oversight and does the community a real disservice.