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08/03/2017 Letters to the Editor

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Stories are attacks on officials

The small town of Dunnellon is very rich in history, heritage and culture. Many of the founding father’s families still reside here. The Riverland News, a weekly newspaper owned by Landmark Community Newspapers, states at the top: “A Newspaper Built on Community Pride.”

Up until recently, the townspeople would have been in agreement. Perhaps the editor and publisher should get together and determine what that statement should really mean. Today’s news media is saturated with shock and awe campaigns that have overtaken stories that need be told or send them buried in a corner as an honorable mention.

It’s no secret Dunnellon City Hall has been a topic of questionable practices during the past 10 plus years, if not decades. Yet, this current council comprised of past mayors and vice mayors jumped in the seats in effort to try and clean up the mess left by past Council’s.

The Riverland News opted three weeks ago to run a story reporting the solicitation of funds for an “invitation-only” city promotion party. I don’t disagree that editor should have reported on the issue. That should have been the end of it.

Why? If it was reported properly the ending should have indicated that this common practice by this small city over decades has never been questioned before. Of course, now we live in 2017 where everything needs to be reviewed and Social Media is a tool for some folks to just be angry.

As I understand, some Council and staff at least double checked with the city attorney and state. When it was determined this was questionable. They then returned the funds and apologies were made. Never an attempt was made to sweep this under a rug.

The publisher also approved this story as it also ended up on the front page of the Chronicle as well. The Riverland editor chose not to end it there. Apparently, for unknown reasons, he has turned the story into what is being perceived by many of the founding families and others in town as an all-out personal attack against the mayor, city administrator and city clerk.

The editorials and columns in the past two issues nearly, if not entirely, are borderline defamation of character, libelous allegations and unproven implications with no facts to back them up, both in print and Social Media.

I am shocked a publisher who in the past has told this editor to backoff stories that could have had major impacts in this small town, is allowing this one to continue. In my mind, ethics works both ways.

Many citizens are very upset and confused by what looks like an attempt to destroy the credibility of Mayor Walter Green, along with the careers of Dawn Bowne and Amanda Roberts. Many other stories should have been covered this aggressively.

What has been accomplished? The city can no longer sponsor any events as in the past, never accept a gift or donation of any kind. A resident can’t even bring in a box of donuts to the counter staff, just as a kind gesture.

This small town has to fall in line with the likes of Miami, Tampa or Orlando. The pressure has been placed on the nonprofit groups to set up now with no city support. Sadly, during the past year, the Riverland News has become a hard to read, non-sectional style content, being wedged in small font ribbons among nearly all advertising on stories sometimes two weeks old.

If the plan was to reach out with a shocking, tabloid newspaper with a spin doctor at the helm at the risk of alienating this proud community, if you haven’t done so already, is not a great business plan, in my opinion anyway.

Dominic Battista,

Dunnellon

Outrage about city long overdue

I appreciate the concern and opinions rendered in the Riverland News and to the City Council about the promotion party for the two highest, well-compensated paid employees in Dunnellon.

The employees should have paid for the party themselves; thankful for their good employment status and advancement. As I do not know all the details, I will stay away from any final judgment.

However, I do want to put in perspective the reaction and input from Dunnellon voting citizens compared to events that transpired since 2011 to 2015 when city actions were totally incomprehensible, unethical, possibly illegal and uncontained by any responsible oversight. Not a peep from citizens via public or civic forum.

A stroll down memory lane of Dunnellon malfeasance, to say the very least, would recall the following major issues that needed at least as much scrutiny and indignation that the current issue in rightfully generating. We are talking about millions of dollars squandered without accountability and financial decisions that were totally incompetent.

Remember the traffic camera fiasco? Fine money diverted to fund Greenlight.

Purchasing a poorly maintained utility system for top dollar and securing terrible financing that still hurts utility customers and will for years.

Remember the unethical and irresponsible letter sent out Rainbow Springs utility customers about well permits, back-flow regulators and other issues to scare utility customers, under the authority of the city government?

Recall the borrowing and transfer of funds out of the utility funds needed to barely keep the city operating?

Adding insult to injury: Losing a legal case even though the city had a million-dollar lawyer reviewing their actions. Remember the Greenlight fiasco and all that entailed that went completely unnoticed by taxpayers? Then selling Greenlight and forgetting to get the money at closing? Oops!

How about when the city purchased a house for $75,000 to house a city planner that was not there and for Greenlight parking? This purchase required a zoning change that the city gave itself to seal the wonderful deal.

The city actually hired a communications manager when it was nearly broke to convey misinformation and nonsense.

Harking back to the good old days when the city paid its attorney annually more than the city of Ocala paid all its attorneys in a year. The public safety director position created to keep the fire department limping along? Defaulting on the Regions Bank loan and blaming Regions for foolishly loaning them the money.

I could go on, but I think the point is made. How does a city of Dunnellon’s size get into $23 million worth of debt and no one notices?

As stated, I appreciate the umbrage the voters have about the party issue and it is merited. Where was the concern when all the above was going on right in the public forum? Where was the outrage when the city went into financial meltdown and no one in city management had a clue?

More than $12 million was squandered on Greenlight alone with no public uproar or accountability. So now the citizens are upset with a foolish, bad judgment, poorly handled and bad action, but far from the nefarious actions cited above.

So being the optimist that I am, Dunnellon is moving in the right direction, hopefully toward extinction. The decisions are becoming less damaging and costly to the public: Now they are just unethical.

You might say the latest incident hurt Dunnellon’s image, but I think rock bottom is apt and Dunnellon hit that a long time ago. The bottom line is Dunnellon should be a city like McIntosh: a CINO (city in name only).

There’s nothing wrong with that. Some of my friends think I am a Writer in Name Only; so I am a WINO.

Steve Swett,

Dunnellon