HJ/EDHerald Journal, Feb. 13, 2006

Statements from WISE, HJ about debate invitation

The WISE (We Insist on Sound Education) Committee opposing the upcoming HLWW school referendum declined an invitation last week to debate the merits of the issue.

Arranged by Herald Journal to give both sides a public opportunity to present their positions, the event went off with only one group participating.

Here is WISE’s response to the invitation, followed by a Herald Journal statement rebutting some of the points:

WISE statement


More Information Contact: Victor Niska, Ph 763.658.3009 Chairman of WISE Committee

February 6, 2006

WISE Committee Respectfully Declines The Herald-Journal’s “Invitation” to Debate

Victor Niska, Chairman of the WISE committee, which is campaigning in the upcoming HLWW school referendum, announced today that the Committee will not be participating in the Howard Lake Herald-Journal’s (sic) upcoming debate scheduled for February 8. We are declining for several reasons.

1. The paper’s invitation to us read, “There will be a political debate between the WISE and BUILD committees 7:00 pm at the Winsted Legion Wednesday, Feb. 8.” (Emphasis added.) Never did the paper request our participation. They simply informed us of the debate and then continued on in their initial letter that “This forum will be advertised in the newspaper and web site.” By the end of last week we found it on the website, as they wrote. Yet they did extend the courtesy of a request to Tony Kielkucki, as they also wrote to us that he “agreed” to be the moderator. This is as it should be, but we were never asked to agree to anything first before they proceeded to advertise it? It looks to the WISE committee as if this “debate” is going to go on with or without us and that we had no input in the matter at all. This is a strange way to treat a potential debate participant.

2. We presented the editor a series of questions the end of last week about the format, type of questions, the presence of alcohol or not, etc., which she promised to answer by no later than 12:00 pm on Monday, February 6. As of 3:00 PM the 6th we are still waiting for this information. How can we decide to participate or not if they haven’t provided us the basic information regarding the terms of the debate, while they are already advertising it? Is this an effort to pressure us?

3. The questions up for debate posed to us by the editor, didn’t even include the primary question the taxpayers and families – which is who we’d generally represent during the debate – would like answered. That question is – What about the exorbitant cost of the HLWW board’s proposal? Apparently it didn’t dawn on the editor that the BUILD committee would need to defend this question during the debate. We believe the questions up for debate are ones designed to place WISE, alone, on the defensive. This is not a fair debate.

4. Our ‘invitation’ included a “CC: BUILD Committee’ on the bottom of it. Why is a courtesy copy of the personal invitation to us being sent to our opponents? We never received a CC of the letter sent to them.

5. The paper is well known to be an active promoter of the district’s agenda. How much ad revenue do they receive each year from the district? How many readers purchase it just to follow events at HLWW? Are they willing to risk all this by providing accurate reporting of this event, especially if the WISE Committee would handily defeat the BUILD folks during the debate?

6. In the end, the paper’s coercive tactics with the WISE committee caused us to seriously question what kind of a story their 3,100+ readers would be provided about the events of the evening, even if we positively impacted 100(+ or -) members of the public who came out to hear it. In light of their high pressure tactics the risk was too great.

The WISE Committee respectfully declines and would ask the Herald-Journal to print this entire Press Release so the voters would have our complete exptanation.

Herald Journal statement

1. After considerable thought and discussion, both internally and with members of the community, we decided to take the lead and conduct this event to try to bring discussion of the pros and cons of the school referendum to a public setting, and one in which, each party could respond to each other’s statements. Both groups were invited in the same manner and by the same process.

2. Our staff was late in answering these questions. They were e-mailed at 1:30 p.m. Monday, not noon as promised.

3. The debate questions were intended to cover an overview of the referendum issue. Additionally, we expected that through the course of the debate – opening statement, prepared questions, audience questions, and closing statements – all points that anyone wished to make would certainly come out.

4. We may have misused the “cc” notation. Both parties received identical invitations with the name changed at the bottom.

5. Yes, we are a promoter of the HLWW school district, as we are for Holy Trinity, Lester Prairie, St. James, St. Mark, Buffalo-Montrose-Hanover, Watertown-Mayer, Mayer Lutheran, Zion, Dassel-Cokato, and other schools in and near our readership area.

6. We always have and always will strive to allow all parties to express their positions, both through fair news coverage and the open channel of our Viewpoints page. Certainly, the mix of favorable and unfavorable letters to the editor in the past few weeks demonstrates this balance.

See also: story on debate event

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