The Mariposa Gazette came under fire last week when comments were made by a Mariposa County supervisor.
District 2 Supervisor Merlin
Jones spoke during the “departmental presentation” portion of the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors meeting. Recently, Jones appeared to be implicated in the yearly Mariposa County Grand Jury report for his possible improper involvement in business relations in northern Mariposa County, and his tirade seemed to have stemmed from an article printed in the Gazette about that grand jury report.
Gazette managing editor/co-owner Greg Little wrote the article, and Jones took Little to task.
“The current owner, Greg Little, I think has done a disservice to the community and to the paper,” said Jones, who also gave Little a nickname.
“I’m going to change it now to Smokin’ Little Greg. Anybody who can read between the lines knows exactly what I’m talking about. He’s a poor excuse for a journalist,” Jones said.
Jones cited a few different instances in which he disagreed with the way Little reported.
One such instance was the Jerry Cox case, which is an ongoing court case involving Cox, a local man, who was removed from his property due to code violations. The property has since been put into receivership and the controversial case is winding its way through the court system.
“He had all the information at the courthouse,” Jones said. “He didn’t bother to go over and get it. He came to me one day after I left 1850 (restaurant) and said, ‘I need some information from the county, would you give me some information?’ I said, ‘No, go get your own information.’ He said, ‘No, I’ll just have to come up with something then.’ That’s poor journalism. That’s laziness.”
Jones then brought up recent newspaper coverage of former Mariposa County Unified School District Superintendent Robin Hopper, who was arrested for driving under the influence and allegedly biting a peace officer. Hopper has since resigned.
“Instead of sitting out there smoking and being lazy, he didn’t do his investigation,” Jones said. “If he had made some phone calls to the courts, her attorneys or her, he would have gotten the correct information. Instead, he ran a front page article with wrong information. That is wrong. I hope he is learning something from this.”
Jones said to “sell papers,” Little printed the story about the grand jury report.
“He put it above the fold, and it’s going to draw more attention,” Jones said. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Jones said “he knows the paper sales have been going down,” and that the newspaper “is having a tough time and is getting desperate.”
Jones said he “used to be able to work with all papers and all people, as long as they’re honest.”
He said he is “for freedom of the press,” but said he is “also not afraid to say” what he has to say.
“I know he has the power of the pen, and different people said, ‘You better be careful, Merlin, by bringing this issue up.’ I want to remind him he’s got the power of the pen, and I’ve got the power of the pulpit,” Jones said. “Believe me, if he wants to go on with it, I’ll go on with it. So Greg, straighten up, do your job, don’t smoke so much and do good investigative journalism. That is what an owner of the paper should be doing.”
In total, the comments from Jones lasted close to five minutes.
After the meeting last week, the Gazette contacted Mariposa County Counsel Steve Dahlem to get clarification on a few points.
Here’s the exact language of the email sent by Publisher Nicole W. Little to Dahlem: “As county counsel, can you clarify how bringing up this issue during ‘departmental presentations’ is part of the meeting process? Can you send us the information, or board rules, where this is allowed? We are curious because under normal circumstances, it’s generally county business that is brought up by the department heads. Is the board of supervisors a department? Do personal attacks fall under county business?
“Also, during his tirade, Jones said ‘people’ told him not to go to battle with the newspaper and bring it up at the meeting. Does that mean other members of the board, or even yourself, were aware this was going to happen? If so, why was it not put on the agenda?”
Following is the answer received from Dahlem: “The exercise of free speech by Supervisor Jones at the July 23rd meeting of the Board of Supervisors did not violate any law, including the Brown Act, or the Rules of Procedure for Meetings of the Board of Supervisors.”
Dahlem did not address if the matter was discussed beforehand, the board rules or the issue of personal attacks by supervisors.