[EDITOR’S NOTE: The letter below contains two false assertions about alleged ethics violations by two candidates. The state ethics agency’s chief of staff corrected the two errors here.]
OPINION: As you know, small-town newspapers have been saplings in a hurricane for the last 20 years. According to the Center for Rural Policy and Development, the number of print newspapers in the U.S. fell 28% between 2005 and 2022, which is not even considering circulation. Circulation, the amount who subscribe and pay to read, not just line their litter boxes, has seen considerable drops in readership.
Publishers of small-town papers face the pressures of rising newsprint costs, the ever-expanding internet, and the social media landscape. Unlike prominent newspapers, small-town publications additionally navigate the challenges of serving an older population, cultural shifts, and refusing to meet new readers in this landscape.
And The Citizen is no different.
The Citizen newspaper used to be delivered to your driveway twice a week whether you wanted it or not. It is not the newspaper of county public record. The advertisers pay for it. For years, it did not sell subscriptions that I am aware of. It is the small business of Cal Beverly, who employed the tireless workers of his advertising department.
Every Wednesday and Saturday, there were plenty of ads, want ads, and its version of journalism. The paper never followed strict journalistic policy. Slanted to the extreme conservative, headlines and stories reflected the Editor’s viewpoint. I have never seen a yoga studio advertise. And despite touting local, it runs columnists outside the area and often canned material.
The Citizen gave up print before COVID and, with COVID-19 exasperating all small businesses, appears to be clasping with white knuckles to their now online-only publication.
The death of beloved journalist Ben Nelms dealt another crushing blow. He was the backbone, nuts, and bolts, and did his best to report without overstating his opinion.
However, the choice to let readers, with anonymous online identities, rant, and opine and allow Steve Brown to hijack the front page with his hostile, sky-is-falling personal attacks on anyone who isn’t Suzanne Brown continues to diminish any of the publication’s credibility. It fuels the more considerable debate about online bullying.
All this to say: I agree with Tamara Moore and Vic Painter, City Council Candidates’ decision not to answer The Citizen’s list of questions.
The recent piece written by the editor Mr. Cal Beverly and Steve Brown’s weekly diatribes indicate that they are two grown adults who are mad they were not given more ways to frame Tamara Moore and Vic Painter.
They wanted that list of questions answered — some were biased and fear-based — so they could rant, pick apart, and throw un-vetted statements and assumptions about the candidates to continue promoting the candidates they support.
Cal Beverly and Steve Brown seem convinced that both candidates, Tamara Moore and Vic Painter, are puppets for Mayor Kim Learnard.
Has The Citizen reported how City Council Candidates Suzanne Brown and Eric Imker have campaign violations at the state office? NOT that I have seen. See these links: https://efile.ethics.ga.gov/#/exploreDetails/oL7a1aydn4-fcPVC59m4m5P4048PFnxLXRUfdOLcQk01/12/17422/375/2023
How does Eric Imker have no recorded contributions, yet we see a few yard signs?
How does Eric Imker, who touts himself as the only fiscally sound candidate, proud of his attention to detail, explain his $125.00 fine by the ethics division of the Georgia Campaign Finance Commission?
I find it ironic that Suzanne Brown seems to find fault in how the city operates, yet she also has an ethics fine by the Georgia Campaign Finance Commission for not disclosing and filing on time any contributors to her campaign. https://efile.ethics.ga.gov/#/exploreDetails/6JRbR7UT2bGjWxWrxQu6KpP4048PFnxLXRUfdOLcQk01/12/17413/375/2023
AND more importantly, it is a clear example of picking and choosing coverage of the local council race by The Citizen.
Even more apparent: Steve Brown and Suzanne Brown regularly communicate and command how Council members Holland and Destadio should vote on topics, like the summer agenda item over administrative variances, which was updated to streamline the process and help citizens process decisions quicker.
WHO is the PUPPET MASTER?
See these anonymous open records requests I found and not reported by The Citizen.
Here is the link to an Open Records request: https://peachtreecitygapolice.nextrequest.com/requests/23-211
Browse under documents.
What I find the most disturbing:
– A June 23, email from Suzanne Brown to Mike King. Statements from Suzanne Brown to Frank Destadio and Clint Holland, with statements like “AND YOU NEED TO LEAD CHARGE ON THIS!” and “Read the article I submitted to Cal to post as a letter to the editor. I want you and Frank to be correct about this.” She presumes her way is the only correct way to see a problem.
– A text message from Clint to Steve Brown and Frank Destadio regarding the 7/13 council meeting.
– A copy of texts between Steve Brown and Frank Destadio, with Steve telling him how to present his case. “Make sure you have a copy of the old ordinance.” And Clint reporting like a student to his teacher, “I’m doing a PowerPoint, so I don’t miss a point.”
– Steve Brown texting Frank Destadio and Clint Holland: “Let me know in advance if you put it on the agenda, and I will provide my full support in the newspaper.”
– A text about Clint’s concerns about bringing up a topic without three votes and Frank’s subsequent support in a group text with Steve Brown.
Perhaps Steve Brown and Suzanne Brown accuse Tamara Moore and Vic Painter of being puppets of Mayor Learnard because they are the puppet masters for Holland, Destadio, and King.
I understand that there is puppeteering in politics, but it doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t mean that the citizens of Peachtree City have to accept it.
So, when you, Cal Beverly, editor and owner of The Citizen, throw mud over Tamara Moore and Vic Painter, who are eager citizens wanting to get involved in our beloved community because you are afraid of “Apartments, gates and scales of conservatism in a non-party civic race” … I applaud them for walking away from your digital publication. It was a setup from the get-go.
The ongoing negativity towards two candidates and a void of civil, neutral reporting reinforces apathy on citizen turnout at the polls. But that could be part of the plan — a small turnout with only your small readership, but loyal to the duty of voting. You hope your base — who thrive on rumors and fear will turn out, and the rest of us will take a cart ride off the civic cliff and let the old guard be in charge.
Even though it is a highly conservative publication, The Citizen was a once vibrant community paper but now reads like an online bully pulpit for the obsessed and fearful. Your bullies fear the future. Fear of knowing they cannot control much of anything in the big scheme. The demographics of our community are changing, with approximately 97% of the population under 65, including children and females.
I want a council that represents the 97% but considers the entire population. I want to elect Council members who commit to research, discussion, and true possibility thinkers and leaders, not council members who take orders from two or three people.
Council members who use our parks, attend our festivals, and sit in traffic with children tired and hungry from a round of extra-curricular activities.
And I wish I had a trusted source of local news.
28-year resident of Peachtree City, Ga.
[Stearns was a candidate for the Georgia State Senate District 16 seat in 2018.]