It appears Mariposa County District 2 Supervisor Merlin Jones was stung by the recent release of Grand Jury information where fingers were pointed in his direction about activities in northern Mariposa County.
But instead of addressing the issue of whether or not he was interviewed by the Grand Jury and whether there is anything more to come, he chose instead to attack the messenger — this newspaper, which had a story about the Grand Jury in a recent issue. It should be made clear, no charges have been filed but there is a public document available to everyone which outlines the concerns brought to the Grand Jury.
Now, we are used to being attacked and people have every right to launch such attacks. But Jones decided he would make it personal, even bringing up tobacco smoking. He did this in handing out a nickname, which is juvenile and petty. When public officials do it, they are sinking to a level not becoming of the office.
But with that childish behavior aside, there are certain issues Jones decided to bring up that need to be addressed because he flat-out lied from the dais of the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors. That dais is paid for by the taxpayers and we all expect the truth to be told from that pedestal. Whether we like what is said or not is another issue; but we do expect our elected officials to speak the truth.
Jones chose to lie.
Jones decided to attack this newspaper, which is a local business that employs people and adds to the local economy. The supervisors recently were taken aback when a survey from the chamber of commerce indicated people think they are not business friendly. Attacking a local business in public is certainly not friendly, though Jones has every right to do that and we defend that right.
We thought a little bit of “fact versus fiction” is in order when it comes to what Jones said in the taxpayer-funded board of supervisors room.
It was obvious Jones was fuming over our story about the Grand Jury investigation which implicated his actions when it comes to the Hotel Jeffrey and other matters in north county. It wasn’t that long ago that Jones was in our office saying if an issue arises, contact him. We did when the Grand Jury report came out.
In his response, he sent us an email saying if he commented on the subject, he would be breaking the law. Yet during his tirade last week, Jones proclaimed he “did nothing wrong.” That sure appears to be commenting on the case. Maybe the local district attorney should take a look and see if Jones is right — that his comments rise to the level of breaking the law. It’s also true the current Grand Jury is still looking into the matter. Maybe they should think about his statement, as well.
Even though Jones was on a tirade about the Grand Jury, he said little about that case, other than the fact he insists he didn’t do anything wrong. Instead he chose to attack this newspaper, spewing false information. We know they are lies because he has no way to verify what he was saying.
First, he said this newspaper is struggling financially. Really? He has access to our financial records? Maybe he broke our QuickBooks code. Well, that can’t be the case, because he would find just the opposite. We are doing just fine, Mr. Jones, and who are you to blabber about something you simply have no knowledge to discuss? Especially in a public meeting funded by the taxpayers of Mariposa County. Which business is next?
This is the lowest of the low and you should be ashamed for launching a personal attack that is an outright lie. We pay our employees well, donate to the community and are advocates for all of Mariposa County. And yes, we pay our taxes to the county, too, which helps fund your pulpit.
In fact, last year we gave more than $10,000 to local charitable groups. That included the fairgrounds, Little League, Toys for Tots, Manna House and many others. We also organized political debates, presented a sports awards show to honor high school athletes, participated in parades and volunteered many hours.
He also proclaimed our readership is diminishing and we are only trying to blast stories like his “above the fold” to sell newspapers. Well, we are in the business of selling newspapers, but if you look back over the past year and a half, we have been very careful about not sensationalizing stories. In fact, we have completely changed the philosophy of the previous ownership and made every effort to highlight the positive things happening in Mariposa County. We’re not afraid of controversial issues, but we also want a balance. Our thought process is not about selling newspapers, it is about telling the truth, something Jones doesn’t seem to understand.
It’s also interesting that the self-proclaimed successful businessman Jones would criticize a business for trying to make money. He certainly boasts publicly, including from that same dais, about making money in the business world.
As for our readership, maybe Jones found his way into our circulation computer. Wait, once again, if he had done that, he would know we are not losing circulation and, in fact, our over-the-counter sales have increased significantly since the ownership of the newspaper changed. Our newspaper circulation is just fine and for an elected official to outright lie about something he knows nothing about should rile up every taxpayer in Mariposa County.
It also begs the question: What else is he lying about?
Jones then decided he would criticize our coverage of a couple of stories that have been high-profile.
He accused us of being lazy when it comes to the case of Jerry Cox, the local landowner who has a pending case against him — brought by Mariposa County. Should a supervisor who is a public servant of the county be publicly talking about such a case? We wonder what Mariposa County Counsel Steve Dahlem thinks of this tactic. Could it taint the case? Could it show bias? Jones claims we won’t even get the case file of the Cox case. We have a binder three inches thick with information from the court about the Cox case. Is Jones also calling his own county counsel lazy, as well, because Dahlem has been in the courtroom just as much as we have during almost every hearing that has happened.
Does Jones have more information on the Cox case that has not been revealed? Maybe Cox’s attorneys should call Jones to the stand to enlighten the public — and the courts.
He then proceeded to bring up the issue of Robin Hopper, the former superintendent of schools who was arrested for DUI.
Jones claims we did not get the facts straight in the case. He said we should have called Hopper when it came to the issue of a second warrant being issued for her arrest for failure to appear. If we called everyone accused of DUI, we’d never get anything done. However, this is a high-profile case, so we called her attorney, which is the proper protocol. In the end, it was her attorney who admitted to making an error and that’s why she failed to appear. Jones should probably check his facts before blasting this out in public, as well.
That’s not to mention the fact he drug Hopper into this for no apparent reason other than to blast the messenger. We’re sure she’s thrilled about it.
Jones also made sure to single out Gazette Editor Greg Little, who he called the “owner.” Technically, he is a co-owner, along with Nicole W. Little, who is the publisher. The publisher is the person who oversees the entire operation. Was this an oversight or chauvinism on the part of Jones? This might be picking nits a little, but it goes to the overall ridiculousness of the rant.
During another portion of his ranting, Jones said he had been told by “other” people not to bring it up and start a fight with the newspaper. Who were those other people? Were they members of the board or county employees? Were they discussing this before the meeting? If so, doesn’t that cross a line?
Jones also spoke of the “pulpit” he has as a supervisor. Does he not realize that pulpit is paid for by the taxpayers and he should practice dignity and respect while preaching from his taxpayer-funded high horse?
Here’s what Jones fails to realize, or choses to ignore: When an elected official spews blatant lies, there are people who take that person at their word. In essence, his goal was to harm a local business by spouting off things that are simply false. This is inexcusable behavior for someone who was elected by the people because there was a level of trust. That trust has been broken by this ridiculous and uncalled for rant by Jones.
This isn’t the first time Jones has gone on a tirade during a board meeting. He’s blasted others for accusing him of doing things he said didn’t happen.
But in this case, it is the Grand Jury that has an open case, not the newspaper. The Grand Jury who is still investigating this matter should also take that into consideration.
Could guilt be entering his mind or could he just be trying to divert attention from the real issue — he’s under scrutiny by the Grand Jury in a case that could eventually land in the hands of the district attorney.
There is another big point here and that is how the behavior of Jones reflects on the rest of the board. Do they condone such behavior? Do they just sit silently and let a supervisor rant, knowing full well he is telling outright lies?
The bottom line is Merlin Jones, whose seat is up for election in March, was acting like a child. Maybe he should take his toys and go home.
Nicole W. Little, publisher
Greg Little, editor