Sunday, May 04, 2008

Laurel Leader Barely Gets The Story

The Laurel Leader's web-only story about Laurel City Council member Mike Sarich's ethics case left me barely informed this week. Their headline says, "Ethics panel clears Sarich — but barely." Unfortunately, the Leader never tells me that the panel decided unanimously in Sarich's favor. In other words, he was found innocent of committing any ethics violation. Not one member of the five person panel voted for finding a violation.

How does a unanimous decision rate a barely? Woman found pregnant, but barely ... makes about as much sense. Guilt or innocence, pregnant or not, these conditions demand a yes or no vote. It is not fair or even ethical to vote for one side but then turn around and call it the other.

I'm not taking sides on this case. I agree with the Laurel Ethics Commission that the rules on soliciting non-profits needs to be rewritten, both in Laurel and in Prince Georges County. The rules that allow our elected officials to act as bag-men for developer dollars has got to be stopped. If developers want to give money to local organizations, let them do it all by themselves.

The Mayor was doing his duty as chief executive officer of the city in bringing the case to the commission. But as far as the Sarich case is concerned, the allegation was made, the evidence was weighed and the panel voted. No ethics violation was found. The process worked.

I hope the Laurel Leader does the ethical thing and they fix their story in time for next Thursday's print edition.

Your comments are always welcome. Click the comments link below to post your opinion on this issue.


Update 5/5/2008. The Leader changed the story on their website today. The comments to this post are flying furiously. The Sarich effect has returned. Anonymous is even back! See the comments section for the complete discussion. - grw


John said...

I agree. Thanks for pointing this out & I'm glad Sarich was cleared.

Erin said...

I couldn't agree more. "Barely" when it was unanimous? The fact that Ms. Glenn made no mention of the vote in her article, coupled with such a damning headline, makes me doubt the journalistic objectivity of both the writer and the editor, who often writes the headlines. Especially in an election season, it makes me wonder whose agenda the Leader is advancing. The mission of a hometown paper should be to serve its town. Councilman Sarich seems to be much more interested in doing that than the Leader is.

Anonymous said...

mike has to understand that craig will continue to attack him as long he continues to disagree with him. why can't he just go along like the rest of the council?

Anonymous said...

How many times has Craig sent ethical violations to the panel? According to the Leader this is the second one on Sarich. One for improper basketball use, which he was given the wrong form. Plus this one where he was barely in a 5-0 vote cleared. Just curious how closely he is watching the othe people on the Council.

Jen said...

Ms. Glenn's blatant omission of a known fact in her coverage of such an important issue, has the potential to negatively impact not only Mr. Sarich, but the citizens of Laurel as well. Ms. Glenn has made a serious error in adhering to the ETHICS of journalism and has a professional obligation to correct this immediately.

Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting... I'm looking forward to reading the "leader" on Thursday. I wonder if the Gazette will get it right?

It does go to show you that you have to really read these newspapers with a grain of salt sometimes. Hopefully they'll apologize to Mr. Sarich.

Rick Wilson said...

Folks: I appreciate all of your comments. However, I don't necessarily agree with you all.

My first disagreement is that the attacks on the Mayor are unfounded. The Mayor has a duty to bring ethics complaints forward. He doesn't get to pick and chose. If there is an ethics allegation, the Mayor must deal with it. The process is pretty specific.

My original complaint was with the Leader's choice of words in the headline of the article. I don't believe for a minute that the Leader is working a political agenda. That conclusion is totally unfounded. Journalists are required to make fast decisions concerning stories and headlines. I appreciated the Leader running the story on the web rather than waiting a week for the paper edition. In my opinion, the Leader makes correct decisions almost all the time. I felt that this time they got it wrong and I said so.

BTW - If you check the Leader's website tonight, you'll see that they modified both the headline and the story.

Anonymous said...

I usually applaud those that are loyal to their friends, no matter what. However, did author Rick or Sarich loyalists commenting here attend the ethics hearing last week? Neither did I, but perhaps we should have. I have been told that we would have heard a witness state that in his prior profession he would condem Sarich's behavior in an editorial. I was also told that this and the testimony of all the witnesses was later disputed by Sarich and he impugned the witnesses. I understand Sarich blamed this hearing on his poor writing ability. I was told that this hearing operated under rules of evidence. Apparently there was sufficient evidence of wrongdoing by Sarich to move the complaint from a prelininary hearing to the full hearing last week. As told to me there was apparently not the preponderance of evidence required to find Sarich guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of violating ethics law. I understand that the barely not guilty comment was from the ethics commission and not the reporter for the Leader. Author Rick, you need to do your homework and get the full story before doing your reporting. Why wasn't this hearing on the cable?

mike said...

Nice try anonymous, Sarich was cleared 5-0, in other words a shutout, a perfect game, a clean sheet, quibble all you like but it's clear you're just hating on him.

look up "preponderance" it's the lowest standard of proof required for a conviction, they couldn't even get ONE person to agree to that!!!

Anonymous said...

New lead paragraph from Leader:

The Laurel Ethics Commission unanimously cleared City Council member Michael Sarich of charges that he violated ethics regulations when he solicited funds for a nonprofit group from developers who had business pending before the council.

Rick Wilson said...

Welcome Back Anon,

I'm not a reporter. I'm just a guy that writes his opinions about events and issues on a blog. I covered my goals and intentions pretty well here:

I also provide a forum where you Anon and others can comment on my stories. I wrote about my anon policy here.

That is all I do. If you want to write a blog that provides your own take on events, I can help you set one up. I think the more voices that are engaged in the discussion the better for the community.

I'm not supporting or opposing Mike Sarich. My original story was about a Leader article that I felt left the reader with a misperception of the case. The only facts I reacted to were the 5-0 vote clearing him in this matter and the Leader's headline saying "barely". He was either innocent or he was guilty. There is no middle ground in my opinion.

I'm not saying that Mike Sarich is good or evil. I'm saying that I felt that the Leader's headline and story were misleading.

Jennifer said...

I am glad the Leader chose to rewrite the header and first paragraph of the article. I think it still tells the story of the event, including its tension, but is also clear about the outcome (in which Sarich was unanimiously cleared of the charges).

Anonymous said...

I think in the end, Rick's doing a good thing here. He saw an injustice of sorts, he took to the blogosphere and the Leader corrected a potentially (although prob. not intentionally) misleading article. Well done all around.

Mike Sarich said...

I want to thank Rick and all the people that posted, especially my good friend A-Non. :-) The support I've recieved has been nothing short of amazing. Thanks again!

Below is a letter that will run in the Leader this Thursday. Sometimes they edit for length/word choice but here it is in the original form:

As you know by now, last Wednesday I was cleared in an unanimous vote by the Laurel City Ethics Commission. I'm grateful to the Commission for their careful hearing of the facts, all those that participated in the process, and also to the many who continue to stand by me as I work for our community.

Raising funds for non-profits is just one part of my job as a Laurel City Councilman. I'm proud that along with my Council colleagues, I have authorized the disbursement millions of dollars in City aid to our Rescue Squad, Fire Department, Boys and Girls Club, LARS and other worthy groups and projects over the years. Raising non-City funds for non-profits are covered in our Ethics Ordinance under section 2-68. This section clearly authorizes and encourages elected officials like me to raise funds to support the worthy efforts of civic and nonprofit groups and is simply a continuation & codification of our roles as community leaders. This is the section that I followed in both spirit and letter and is the reason there could be no finding of fault last week. Simply put, I followed the law.

While I could easily take this vindication and use it for political gain by criticizing the individual who brought these baseless charges forward, that would be short-sighted and counter productive. There's a great deal of work to do in Laurel & rather than focus on the past, I'm going to focus my energies and time on achieving tangible results for my hometown. To make that happen requires teamwork between and among all Councilmembers, the Mayor, and the Administration. I want the people of Laurel to know that my full energies will continue to be focused on serving them and working on issues that matter.

Anonymous said...

I am hoping that mike sarich learned something from this whole episode. While raising money for a non-profit is noble, trying to raise money from people that have business or permits pending with the City is just plain stupid. I'm surprised he didn't know better. Hopefully he does now.

Anonymous said...

mike sarich, nice try. you have not changed since we were in SVPHS together. i see you attempted to attract pity to your plight by blaming it on your writing. you continue to be a master at using clever writing to turn your negative actions into self serving please be sorry for mike sarich messages.

Anonymous said...

umm, wasn't he cleared of any wrong doing? oh, and wasn't it 5-0?

it's funny that people still want to take shots at him after he was cleared. although they did call him a master writer :-)

Anonymous said...

Mike Sarich I also remember you from SVPHS. I think you have changed quite a bit. You now are a much better basketball player.

Anonymous said...

Since Mike Sarich posted on here I hope I can ask him a direct question. If raising money for non-profits is part of your job then why were you brought in front of the ethics panel? There must be other Council members that have raised money for non-profits if it is part of the job. Why have they not been brought in front of an ethics panel also?

Mike Sarich said...

Good question and one that I think many people might like to know the answer to.

As for me, I've decided not to catagorize or impugn the motives of the person that brought the baseless charges against me.

The facts are I followed the law, as certified in an unaminous
decsion by our Ethics Commision.

Perhaps you could ask the person who made the baseless charges directly or contact him through his email address as to his motives. As for me, I'm moving forward and feel his motivations are irrelevant to fulfilling my role as an elected community leader.

Anonymous said...

mike sarich, nice try to sidestep a question, again. not a master writer, but clever with your words.

Rick Wilson said...

Ok kids, I suggest you take it outside. Those are old SVPHS battles. I think we have exhausted this issue. Back to neutral corners. Thanks to all for the comments.

Angela said...

Having not read the comments this initial post generated for several days, I can honestly say that I’m quite disappointed in the digression they seem to have taken. Before the topic is completely dead I’d like to throw out my own ‘two cents’.

I applaud the Leader for changing the article to reflect the outcome of last Wednesday’s hearing. A dictionary was obviously located somewhere in the newsroom. Enough about that.

I would like to address, however, the comment left by ‘anonymous’ on Monday, May 5 at 5:55 pm. I WAS at the hearing (all 6 hours of it), and anyone who has ever played ‘telephone’ will remember that “I heard that…” is generally not the best way to start a sentence. Perhaps the reason the outcome of the final hearing was different from the preliminary hearing is that the team of lawyers representing Councilman Sarich presented a legal case that even the Ethics Commission could understand. Perhaps it simply took the Commission two evenings of hearing the same evidence for the reality to sink in- no violation was committed.

The witness referred to who would “condemn Sarich's behavior in an editorial” actually said he would question it. And had he done that (certainly his right- obviously others did) he would have discovered exactly what the Commission learned; the Ethics Ordinance contains a paragraph addressing this situation. “Preponderance of evidence”… the evidence was clear, and all five Commission members agreed that it did not support an ethics violation. It was exactly the same evidence as in the preliminary hearing. One must ask then why a final hearing was ordered. If one had attended the hearing, he or she would have gotten the distinct impression that Chair Hester was looking for any way to find Councilman Sarich’s actions in violation of the Ethics Code. I am not disagreeing with his warning to the Councilman to ‘watch his emails more closely in the future’ (I’m paraphrasing), but it was unnecessary to say that a unanimous decision was as “close to the line as anyone can come” (Leader article). In order to remain consistent with his own actions and follow the letter of the Ethics Law the Commission had to find Sarich not guilty of a violation; the Commission dismissed a motion presented at the start of the hearing regarding Special Counsel’s role because the Ethics Law required her to perform multiple functions. The Chair could not then twist the Law to support finding Sarich’s actions in violation of that same Ethics Code. (An aside: I’d also like to point out that I have never watched a council or commission proceedings where the Chair spoke his or her opinion first and then asked the rest of the council to disagree with him.)

In summary, I suggest anonymous attend more public hearings if he or she would like to comment on their content. Or rent the video.

Anonymous said...

Mike Sarich from the "Honors coursework for a degree in Government and Politics at the University of Maryland at College Park. Mr. Sarich earned academic honors, induction into the Golden Key Honor Society, and was twice selected as a McNair Scholar. Mr. Sarich knew he needed more formal education if he was to fulfill his ultimate goal of leading and shaping public policy. Mr. Sarich applied to and won acceptance into the prestigious University of Maryland, School of Public Affairs, Management, Finance & Leadership Program. This top-five program furthered the foundation Mr. Sarich received as an undergraduate and provided him with the analytical tools and formal knowledge of budgets, policy, and leadership."

Mike Sarich on Mike Sarich: "I regret that I am not a good enough writer .... I'll be more careful in the future in how I communicate."

The Laurel Leader Opinion on Mike Sarich: ".... it does not deiminish the lack of good sense Sarich displayed in this instance."

Mike Sarich, please spare us your self pity in your clever use of wordsmithing.

Mike Sarich on Mike Sarich: "While I could easily take this vindication and use it for political gain by criticizing the individual who brought the baseless charges forward ...."

Gazette on Mike Sarich: "Sarich hired three attorneys to represent him during the final hearing."

Mike Sarich hired three attorneys to clear Sarich of "baseless charges"? Isn't Mike Sarich already applying his spin to his "lack of good sense" for "political gain"?

Now it appears from the report in the Gazette that Mike Sarich wants the people of the City of Laurel to pay for his poor writing that resulted in his hiring of not one, not two, but three attorneys!

Hanging chads anyone?

Anonymous said...

Just an opinion but if someone wrongly accused me of something I would want them to pay also. It did not need to go this far since the evidence the Panel heard was the same evidence that Councilman Sarich presented to them when they decided to have a hearing.

Anonymous said...

the City is lucky Sarich doesn't sue them for more than legal fees! when will moe learn? perhaps when Sarich beats him for mayor in 2 years!!!

Anonymous said...

I suppose that the Mike Sarich campaign for mayor in 2010 starts now? Or is it the House of Delegates in 2010? Or is it the County Council in 2010?

Anonymous said...

Definitely mayor, he'd be a good one too. I bet he wouldn't exclude minorities like the current guy.

Anonymous said...

Mayor? You must be kidding! You don't know the Mike Sarich that many of us grew up with.

Anonymous said...

What does the Bible say about a prophet without honor "only in his hometown"? (Matthew 13:57 NIV) :-)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rick Wilson said...

I deleted the last comment. It went too far. I've also suspended comments on this post. I think we have all had enough.