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Editorial: There are many opinions but one set of facts in JCIDA story

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Early last month, the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency authorized hiring a Rochester consultant for $7,000 to make a 12-month assessment of the energy efficiency of Jefferson County’s buildings on Arsenal Street.

What the JCIDA’s leadership failed to share with the board at the meeting was that a Clayton engineering firm had already accomplished that the previous September. Buildings and grounds superintendent Spike C. Decker was surprised.

“I had no clue someone was proposing something for my building, and I told them we’ve already done the work,” Mr. Decker said. “We’ve been very proactive in the last 10 years by increasing energy efficiency here, so there’s really not a lot that they can gain. If we haven’t done it, it’s because it’s cost-prohibitive right now.”

That honest reaction by a respected department head opened a firestorm of criticism. Immediately, JCIDA board members and community residents outside the agency received a scathing email from Donald C. Alexander, chief executive officer of the JCIDA, vilifying this newspaper for having the temerity to quote Mr. Decker about the wisdom of the JCIDA’s ill-conceived power efficiency scheme.

Times reporters and editors heard about the email and immediately requested a copy under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. While we were waiting — a process that involved an appeal of an initial denial — we began looking around to find out just what Mr. Alexander was saying so we could better understand his wrath. The response to our FOIL request came this week. You can read it for yourself [in a graphic attached to this web story]; Mr. Alexander severely redacted his email.

In the meantime, Times reporters obtained a copy of the email. You can read every word in the original email, also appearing [as a graphic attached to this web story].

We have been criticized many times over the 153 years this newspaper has been published, so this is hardly a new experience. Here is a brief summary of what Mr. Alexander chose to keep secret:

n The article is a “blatant attempt to make staffs and boards from the county and particularly the IDA look ignorant and unaware of what is going on around them.”

n JCIDA has been “victimized by an editorial policy gone amuck [sic].”

n “When one is asked the question regarding the difficulties of doing economic development in Jefferson County, might I suggest that high on the list is the Watertown Daily Times and its ownership who remains mired in the ‘golden days of newspapers’ when bulling [sic] was an accepted and predominate [sic] way of life.”

Finally, Mr. Alexander chose to redact his glee in citing the lower circulation of the Times caused by “editorials designed and presented as ‘news stories.’ ”

Mr. Alexander is certainly entitled to his opinions, but there can be only one set of facts. The facts are simple: Almost immediately after the article appeared, the JCIDA board put the project on hold for further evaluation.

What is distressing is that the man entrusted with leading Jefferson County’s job development efforts, the man who continues to preside over a county whose unemployment rate, despite the presence of Fort Drum, is much higher than almost every county in the state, can take pleasure in the changing nature of the news media business. Mr. Alexander is cheering for the decline in print circulation and gleefully hoping for the eventual demise of one of Jefferson County’s major employers, whose staff produces a daily newspaper delivered to doorsteps from Massena to Pulaski and services and maintains a comprehensive and serious local news website.

Hoping for demise? Is that what you want the chief executive of job development efforts to put his energy behind? Not only is Mr. Alexander wrong about this media organization, he fails to display the skills, track record or ability to drive economic development and job creation.

Mr. Alexander has impugned the motives and the professionalism of every man and woman engaged in the publication of the Times — door-step delivery agents, press operators, computer experts, reporters, editors and the many other employees who work hard to present an even-handed and accurate news report.

Sometimes the truth hurts, but it always emerges — even if you think you are immune because you have a black pencil on your desk to cover up your words.

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