The general election is a week away and the issue of a Downtown Yakima Central Plaza should finally be decided one way or another.  I say "should" be decided because, well,  if the past is prologue, ANYTHING is possible.

The Plaza project has gone from done deal to on the ropes, to done deal to law suit to life support to on the ballot with an obituary already written.  Not to mention it carries along the hopes and dreams of a better more vibrant downtown for hundreds of Yakamanians who participated early on in the process and those others who pledged nine and a half million of their hard earned dollars as a gift to us all.

For the record, the plaza is an economic development tool, a proven successful model as a magnet for business investment, a programmable community entertainment & identity space, as well as a unique playground, gathering spot & living room for the city -  and the path to the plaza is littered with broken promises, misinformation and now -- intentional deception?

The editorial in Tuesday's Yakima Herald Republic (YHR) 10/30/18 (a daily part of your life) raises the issue of what they call a "breach of trust".  

The editorial says that "A large volume of letters to the editors to the Herald-Republic, nearly 150 since September, have streamed in the citizenry a forum to debate the pros and cons of issues is one of our most serious obligations as a journalistic organization. The opinion page is a venue for free expression and an open exchange of ideas among a populace willing to sign their name to their opinions."

In other words---Letters to the Editor are a big deal to the YHR, and to all newspapers. They represent the voices of your Fellow Americans, they represent the courage of your convictions in your willingness to stand up-speak out-and be identified in front of all those Fellow Americans.  You know, Truth, Justice and the American Way on display.

The editorial continues with, "So, when there is a breach of trust in the veracity of the signatories of letters, we feel duty bound, in the interest of full disclosure, to alert our readers."

Heads up Yakima, some of your brave, thoughtful and similarly eloquent fellow Americans are all the same person in what could only be called a clear violation of the spirit and intent of the letters to the editor process.  Illegal? No.  Immoral? Depends.  If you are anti plaza do the ends justify the means?

The editorial board says, "some of the letters we have published — or had planned on publishing — opposing the building of the plaza were not authored by the citizens who signed them.  Instead, at least four were written by Bruce Smith, owner of Yakima Valley Publishing and a leader in the Preserve Downtown Parking group that has filed suit against the city to block the project. "
Surprise??  Not really, not if you know Bruce Smith. (BS)
A person named Travis Stillwaugh, allegedly wrote a letter that ran on Oct. 21 and urged a “no” vote on the plaza because it would attract homeless people. Turns out Travis didn't write it.  Hmmm.  Okay, so did Travis reach out and ask the wordsmith Smith to help him organize and express his thoughts?   Not according to the editorial, ..." Stillwaugh confirmed prior to publication that he was the writer. However, after a reader raised doubts about the writer’s authenticity, he admitted to us that Smith was the author. So who asked who?    "He came to me and asked if he could do it,” Stillwaugh said. “He got my OK. I believe what Smith wrote reflects my view.”
Sure it does.  So, what's the big deal?   Well, the intent of writing is for the common man to express a point of view and to attempt to influence the point of view of others..  The YHR wants to give real people, us - the unwashed masses, the chance to speak our piece.  If you can't add your voice to a discussion in a convincing fashion you will lack influence. That's the game and it's fair to us all and so when you bring in a hired gun to take your shot, it's unfair to the process and to all the rest of us. Especially if your gun slinger is a trick shot artist.
So,  Smith was trolling for opportunities to take unfair editorial advantage of the procedure, you know -those pesky rules by which all the rest of us are expected to play,  the ones that say he gets just one letter, but BS has more B-S to say so why not pretend to be somebody else and say it as though they said it!  Genius or evil genius?  Depends. Do you oppose the plaza?
 The editorial  points out the YHR  reached out, "Monday afternoon, Smith declined to confirm or deny that he ghost-wrote letters."  Of course not, because in the rough and tumble world of big time local politics as BS sees it and plays it, (ask plenty of past politicos who have been Bar-B-Qued in the Business Times) HONESTY isn't always the best policy, right?  People who play by the rules are suckers.  What has he written in the past, knife weilding, say, bare knuckled, Chicago style to see if that very behavior of which he accuse others is not exactly the behavior he himself portrays.
When you are a wordSmith, you can sling situational ethics with the best/or worst of them, so when you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, you can express icy cool political evasiveness saying things like, “Look, I’m not going to get into the strategy we have in our campaign,”
Strategy? Strategy??  That is so, so Shovalesque!  (too soon?) Look, allow me one joke, afterall, he wrote Puff the Magic Plaza ad.
When you are playing the game the way BS does, and to BS it IS a game, with nearly ten million in community good will and a plan for a better future for all of downtown on the line,  BS plays a game, a game where he can tap dance along the tightrope of technicality,  “I never forged anyone’s name and I never misrepresented anyone’s viewpoint. "   (where have I heard that before...makes me wonder what he thinks "is" is?)

The editorial board confesses that," rules for letters do not specifically spell out that people must write their own letters. But it is a matter of trust, and an unspoken contract with our readers, that their work and specific opinions are their own. When we specify that writers must include their name and address and phone number, it’s implied that they are the writer. We also limit writers to one letter per month, a requirement that Smith clearly skirted."

Look, BS owns and operates a newspaper himself.  Not that he ever offers real readers a chance to write in and express their real opinions,  but he certainly knows the universally accepted intent and significance of any editorial page. Why else would he do the deceptive end around the "unspoken contract" as understood by all newspaper people everywhere to try get so many of his words published there?    Simple.  He wants to influence you.  Good for him, that's the American way.  But he cheats to do it.  Shame on him because that is not the Yakima Valley way.

Does that affect your opinion of his opinions?  Maybe, maybe not.  Do you oppose the plaza?  But at least now you know and maybe we don't even know all we should about how many of the letters he wrote.

And here's the thing, If he was on the other side of this very issue,as  the self characterized true champion of journalism, no voice would cry FOUL louder than Bruce Smith because--

Footnote...BS is the guy who has positioned himself as the defender of the people, (read his stuff, you'll see) he's the journalistic giant who is always calling for open and honest public practice, full disclosure, play by the rules, the people have a right to know and all those other big time Big "J" journalist type sayings...but apparently he only means it when it suits his political purpose?

Here's how the editorial board puts it (and I don't often agree with them!), "Regardless of intention and permission, Smith...seriously breached ethics and fairness by pawning off their letters as the work of another. Smith, who is the publisher and editor of the Yakima Valley Business Times, declined to answer when asked if he crossed an ethical line.

“I’m not going to argue with you,” Smith said. “Like I said before, I won’t discuss our campaign strategies. You guys (the Herald-Republic) are clearly in the other camp — not just your editorial page but in your news coverage.”

Busted!  What now?  Write an insulting parody?  Rewrite a poem or a musical classic?  Aha, time to employ the time honored and classic schoolyard response of ...I know you are but what am I?  You YHR, you support the plaza so that makes it ok for me to cheat!?!

Think about that.   That's what is leading the opposition to the multi-million dollar revitalization of downtown Yakima.

The editorial concludes with this," we are dealing with regular citizens whose names have been used to forward an agenda. It is, put bluntly, a form of deception. And it casts doubt over every letter actually written by a citizen wanting to be heard. We apologize that some of the deceptively-crafted letters made it to print before their true authors were revealed. In the future, we will heighten our vigilance on confirming letter writers’ identities.

I have said all along - If you don't support the plaza, just vote NO. Don't lie about, don't misrepresent it's intent or how its supposed to work or how it works elsewhere.  Don't blame crime or homeless or any other fears.  I don't blame the business that want to keep existing parking and not invite in any extra competition.  Work to understand the real issues, just be honest, just play fair, and vote your informed opinion.

Can we say that's the landscape we walk as we head into next week's election?  I can't wait to read about in in the B.S.B.T.

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