COLUMN: Why so much coverage?

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By David Giuliani

Someone asked me the other day why the Optic gave more coverage to this month’s ouster of Utilities Director George Du Four than it did the six department directors fired by the City Council last summer.

It’s true; the mass dismissals didn’t get as much attention.

Why is that the case? Were we fair?

A big part of the reason for the disparity in the coverage is the department directors themselves. When the council let go of the six directors last year, they dropped out of public sight. I haven’t seen any of them anywhere around town; I hear that a few of them have new jobs.

Shortly after their firings, I attempted to call the six, but I didn’t get any return calls. One of them, Carlos Ortiz, was hired back with the city right away.

A few months after the dismissals, four of the six jointly filed a notice with the city that they may sue. Maybe they’ve been advised by some hotshot Albuquerque or Santa Fe attorney to keep their mouths shut.

By comparison, Du Four was quite loud about this dismissal and revealed seemingly unpleasant facts about the inner workings of city government. In fact, he was going to attend the meeting in which he was fired to defend himself, but his car broke down on the way.

In the recent case, Mayor Tony Marquez put Du Four on unpaid leave a week and a half before the director’s ouster, so we had days’ worth of stories about the controversies surrounding Du Four’s expected departure. With the six directors, there was no such notice. It was all a surprise.

The mayor is another reason why Du Four’s exit got so much more coverage. Unlike last year’s firings, Marquez gave a reason for his decision to oust Du Four — he contended that the director had adjusted customer bills outside of city ordinance. The mayor also took shots at Du Four’s council supporters, which also attracted coverage in the pages of this newspaper.

With the six other directors, he said the dismissals didn’t have to do with their performance but rather their commitment to the mayoral agenda — a reason that muted debate about their dismissals.

Finally, Du Four’s council backers, Andrew Feldman and Diane Moore, created a lot more noise over Du Four’s ouster. When the other six were fired, Councilman Morris Madrid raised procedural questions, but never brought up the subject again during a meeting.

In short, Du Four got more attention than the other six because of the players involved: the directors themselves, the mayor and the council members.

• • •

During elections, candidates like to say they’ll represent the people’s concerns. But it’s hard to do that if the public doesn’t know how to get in touch with them.

This is an especially important issue with the Luna Community College Board of Trustees because, at least for the Optic, the members of this board are the hardest to reach of any local governing body.

Three Luna seats are up for election on March 3.

The best way to get in touch with someone is to look in the local phone book. This is something I’ve done in recent elections to determine candidates’ accessibility. For Luna, I did this for both the Las Vegas-based and Springer-based candidates. There is a Santa Rosa seat up for election this year, but I don’t have ready access to that town’s phone book.

I'm happy to say that a majority of candidates checked are in the phone book; that’s refreshing, especially after this month’s school board elections in which most candidates weren’t listed.

For the Las Vegas-based District 2 seat, Tommy Ortiz is in the book, while his two opponents, incumbent Tony Valdez and Marsha Archuleta, couldn’t be found.

For the Springer-based District 6, both candidates, Robert Portillos and David Gutierrez, were listed.

Candidates before have expressed frustration with such phonebook checks. They’ll tell me that everyone knows where they work or hang out.

Reality check: You’re talking about representing thousands of people; not everyone knows you.

David Giuliani is managing editor of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 425-6796 or dgiuliani@lasvegasoptic.com.