On Wednesday, March 28, the Glen Rose Reporter ran a scurrilous article entitled "Property owners continue to defy city ordinances." This article, written by editor Kathryn Jones, was paired with a full page of photos taken by Jones under the heading "The Shame of Glen Rose." The article was published in the Opinion section. As such, it could have been seen as understandable that Jones was merely expressing her opinion. But, the tone of the article is one which brings to mind the word 'attack' rather than the word 'opinion'.
Jones begins by complaining that there's always one property owner who doesn't care how his place looks and spoils the picnic for everyone else. And continues by saying that Glen Rose has "more than its share" of such people. It is the next paragraph, however, that seems very telling. It is here where Jones suggests that locals who have lived here all their lives and perhaps for generations are less important than new arrivals from the big city. The unstated message is clear: "You poor country folk had better clean up your act now that your betters have chosen this as their retirement community." The shallowness, the arrogance, and the sense of self-entitlement displayed by many of those "moving here to escape city crime and urban blight" is simply appalling. The follow up comment about "many old-timers" agreeing with her position is no doubt intended to mollify native Glen Rosians who might otherwise feel she was merely catering to recent immigrants to our fair city. I, for one, was not appeased.
The article continues, describing two of the city ordinances "designed to safeguard health and public welfare." What a laugh. Ordinance 94 is apparently all about 'junked cars', Jones does not bother to mention that, in practice, the definition of what constitutes a "junked vehicle" is entirely at the whim of the city and its code enforcement personnel. Of course, the only real purpose of such an ordinance, as we all know, is to ensure that our fair town is as aesthetically pleasing as the more snobbish of its citizens wish. Then there's ordinance 151. How exactly can a building "endanger" the "morals" of the public? I'm having a hard time picturing that, unless it's an old porno theater that still has all its signs up. But, as there isn't one of those around here, I'm at a loss. But, in all seriousness, these ordinances are clearly designed to allow the city to get rid of anyone's private property that they decide they don't like. And once they've done it, they can even sue you to try to make you pay them back the cost of destroying your property. Isn't it just amazing the sorts of things municipalities can get away with in this country? You can dress it up as a necessary evil to keep those tourist dollars flowing in, but in reality it's just local government run wild and bossing its taxpayers around because it can. And, when it doesn't act quickly enough to suit them, affluent retirees will be there to cry "are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" Make no mistake, my friend, that's exactly what this sort of sentiment boils down to - a war on the poor.
It seems unlikely that Jones took the time to discover why these properties were not in compliance. For all we know, the owners may lack the money or the time to do proper upkeep at the moment. Or they may be in ill health. Indeed, neighbors of one of the properties she photographed have stated that the owners were already in the process of cleaning up before the Reporter ran its "shame" article. The "concerned citizen" is apparently frustrated that their neighbors aren't pulling their weight. After all, "this citizen has put a lot of time and money into upgrading [their] own property." Did it ever cross this citizen's mind that not everyone may be as fortunate as they? Does this citizen care? Probably not.
Jones mentions that the two ordinances she describes "total 21 pages of rules and regulations." That's governmental waste, if I've ever heard it. Jones goes on to say that she doesn't "have much sympathy" for those not in compliance. She also mentions finding a disused refrigerator inside of one building she photographed. From what one can see of the door and refrigerator photographs, it's hard to believe that Jones didn't at least trespass in order to get them. But that's an issue for the property owners to take up. A recurring theme for the "health and safety" argument seems to be the presence of "rats", "feral cats, possums and other animals". I've got news for you folks, these animals are a fact of life. You can fight nature all you want, but you can't win. Even people who think their houses are free of all such pests are almost certainly mistaken. My favorite part is how tall grass "detract[s] from the area's natural beauty" because, as we all know, grass is naturally very short. And, of course, weeds also do not occur in nature. She goes on to complain about the state of the "Rivercrest property", without mentioning that the owners wanted to clean it up and turn it into an RV park. They were denied permission to do so. It seems that neighbors didn't want 'those kinds of people' next to them. The city denies private land owners the right to have an RV park on Barnard Street because 'Barnard Street was not able to handle the extra traffic'. Now the city owns an RV park on Barnard Street, an RV park that the city is doubling in size - Oakdale.
Jones also comments on "hazards" and asks "what's to keep kids out"? Parents teaching their children to be respectful of private property would be a good start. Of course, as I've already said, things like "won't someone please think of the children" is just a smokescreen. Aesthetics. That's what it's really about. This "concerned citizen" is only "concerned" about how things look. There are problems in this town, to be sure. But cosmetic ones should be of least concern to us. At times, it is hard to not come away with the impression that Jones is running the Reporter like it's her own private little gossip rag.
The article also contains some mild criticism of the city government for not enforcing its ordinances. It would be quite heartening to see Jones using her platform to bring attention to the city's own inexcusable behavior. Like the way the city claims several feet to either side of all city streets as their property but expects the owners of adjacent property to be responsible for keeping the city's grass mowed. And indeed, has threatened to fine property owners for not mowing the city's grass. Or, the fact that the city insists that all dumpsters be enclosed on at least three sides and must be located 'behind' the building that is using it, even if said building does not have a 'behind'. Also, for some reason, all three local governmental entities - the city, the county and the school district - are not required to enclose their own dumpsters. Between them, they have at least twenty dumpsters which are not enclosed. If Jones was interested in the practicalities of living here instead of the aesthetics of living here, the Reporter could also draw attention to the fact that the city's insistence on curbing and guttering city streets so that there is no longer a 'shoulder' to park on has resulted in countless denizens of Glen Rose parking in the streets themselves and at times squeezing many roads down to one lane or less. Of course, there are two problems with that; Jones does not even live in Somervell County, much less Glen Rose; and if the Reporter were to run any such article, they would undoubtedly attack the denizens of Glen Rose rather than the city government. Criticism of the government is, of course, a protected right under the First Amendment. As is the Freedom of Speech and of the Press.
However, 'Freedom of the Press' is not a license to defame. Filled with words such as "pigsty," "trashy," "Nuisances," "eyesores," "slummy," "Squalor," and of course "Shame," the article is clearly intended to insult and degrade the targeted property owners. Jones says she's "not going to name any names - yet." and that the Reporter is printing the photos "To spur them along," those statements would seem to be a threat to expose the identities of the targeted property owners if they do not do as Jones wishes. However the property owners have already been exposed. The photos, which were not published in the Opinion section, contain sufficient information for the properties and therefore the property owners to be identified. Additionally, the article itself mentions the location of one property and the name of another.
One member of this community, who is not one of the targeted property owners, was incensed by the actions of the Reporter. My attention was drawn to this situation by that person. In their own efforts to express their strong disagreement with the Reporter's actions, this person has had phone conversations with Reporter staff. These conversations resulted in at least one smart aleck remark along the lines of "do you even know what slander means?" When the question was turned back on them, Reporter staff "did not know the exact wording."
So, what does slander mean? From thefreedictionary.com: "Collectively known as defamation, libel and slander are civil wrongs that harm a reputation; decrease respect, regard, or confidence; or induce disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against an individual or entity. The injury to one's good name or reputation is affected through written or spoken words or visual images. The laws governing these torts are identical." Although essentially the same thing, technically Slander is Defamation that is spoken, while Defamation in written form is Libel. As the Reporter's statements were written, they would be classified as Libel if found to indeed be Defamatory. In order to recover damages in a lawsuit, the plaintiff would have to show evidence of four elements: that the statement(s) was defamatory; that it was published; that the plaintiff could be identified as the target of the defamation; and that the plaintiff's reputation suffered some injury. It would seem to me that all four conditions are clearly met, but that is for a court to decide if the targeted property owner(s) choose to pursue the matter.
"Shame on those who don't respect their neighbors," Jones says at the beginning of her closing paragraph. I would suggest that it is Jones and those who hold similar views of the less fortunate in our community who have shamed themselves by forgetting one of Christ's most important messages: "Love thy neighbor."