Davis: When issue gets tough, tough to get a COD comment

Posted2/7/2016 5:00 AM

The deadline for the hopelessly deadlocked College of DuPage board to choose a replacement trustee for the resigned Kathy Hamilton expires in four days.

I'll go out on a limb and suggest that won't happen, leaving the decision squarely in the hands of Lazaro Lopez, chairman of the Illinois Community College Board.


We thought it might make for an interesting story if we talked to Lopez this week about the enormity of his looming decision, what criteria he might be using as he sorts through the candidates for the job, when he plans to make a decision.

So, Melissa Silverberg, the reporter who covers the Northwest suburban school district where Lopez is a full-time administrator, reached out to see about an interview.

The door was squarely slammed in her face.

Same thing happened when Silverberg attempted to interview Lopez after his appointment by Gov. Bruce Rauner a year ago. If we have any questions about the process, she was told, we should contact the spokesman for the state panel, a spokesman for the state panel said.

We don't blame Lopez for the lack of availability. When he's wearing his hat as an assistant superintendent in Northwest Suburban High School District 214, he's been readily accessible, talking to various reporters on our staff on a wide array of topics.

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This latest blow to openness and transparency is not atypical to the whole COD mess (and if I have to explain the "mess" in detail, you're probably not reading this column, anyway.) In fact, given that openness and transparency has been discussed at length as being critical to putting the embattled college back on course, it's noteworthy how often that hasn't occurred. And, in a further attempt to manage the message, several of the key players in the COD drama have taken to putting out "statements," rather than answer reporters' questions. In fact, some of those key elected players have had unofficial spokespeople issuing these statements on their behalf.

And, trust me, given the array of lawsuits flying around, some seeking millions of dollars in damages, I appreciate the sensitive nature of all this; one needs to choose one's words very carefully and perhaps guard against a pesky reporter getting them wrong or misconstruing them.

But it's not like COD has a monopoly on furtiveness or message massage. Especially when things blow up and become a media frenzy, I've noticed a tendency in recent years for full-scale message control or radio silence to be observed. At all levels of government.

Here's one example:

Last fall, when news broke that the Naperville Central High School football coach was leading his team in prayer, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation asked the school board to make the coach stop.


Two days later it did, but the story didn't quite end there.

The following day, some of the players wanted the world to know they supported their coach and planned to continue praying. The team issued a statement expressing its pride in the coach and inviting the Freedom From Religion Foundation "to come out next fall and watch us pray and play the game we love. Go Redhawks."

We contacted the Freedom group, and its members issued a statement about the statement.

"The student statement demonstrates an atmosphere in which students are subject to expectations of religious conformity and orthodoxy at Naperville Central."

Then we tried the school district. Another statement: "We are aware that a coach-led prayer is not appropriate."

The coach wasn't talking. In fact, the only actual conversation we were able to have for this story was through a follow-up call with the football player who submitted the statement. Such statementizing (my word) has become increasingly common.

If there's a lesson -- or perhaps a plea -- here, it's this: Please, current and future news sources, just talk to us. We really don't have a dog in these fights; we're just trying to be thorough and get answers to the questions people inevitably have.

As careful as everyone was trying to be on the prayer controversy, the caution made no difference, at least in the world of online public opinion: The dozens of people who commented on the story offered scores of disparate views on the topic.

That's quite a statement, too.


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