The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Honest, Ethical Leadership: Setting the Record Straight on Rashid's Lies

When Barack Obama was running for president, he was attacked on a number of fronts by misleading information and some outright lies. Barack said that every lie must be answered—taking a page from his campaign note book, that is what I am doing today. I am answering the lies that Rashid Burney, an exemplar of dishonest, unprincipled, unethical leadership, has posted on his campaign blog. That he would tell such lies that can be so easily disproved by the facts shows a astonishing degree of deceitfulness.
In an attempt to obfuscate the issues facing Plainfield, Rashid has decided to smear my reputation as a community media activist. Those who know me know that I had a career in the independent film/video industry in New York for seventeen, serving for a number of years on the board of directors of Women Make Movies, the largest feminist non-profit media arts organization in the country. I also taught in the Graduate Film School at NYU’s Tisch School for many years. My reputation in New York among media activists and independent filmmakers is untarnished. In addition, I am a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, and I have always advocated for open access for citizens to public media. Rashid knows all this, but instead prefers to attack me by serving up blatant lies about my service to the city as the first Station Director for Plainfield’s public access channel. That Rashid, who knows how hard I worked to get the city council meetings taped, would lie about my record is absolutely stunning, but certainly shows that he will go to any lengths—even outright lying—to try to be re-elected. Rashid goes on to insinuate that I was deliberately not taping them because I didn’t want the public to see what was going on at council meetings.
As “Mr. Transparency” has removed the public comment function from his blogs (I guess he really doesn’t want to hear from you!), I urge you all to contact Rashid directly and ask him why he would deliberately post these lies about me—his email address is: 
Five months after I began working at the Station, Rashid joined the city council (in 2005). I videotaped the January 2005 reorganization meeting of the council, along with a few other council meetings and special meetings taped at the regular council business meetings as part of my audio/video tests with MY OWN EQUIPMENT while I was in the process of researching packages for the station—these were broadcast on the station several times.  Rashid was there, and is on some of those tapes, which are ARCHIVED AT THE CITY HALL ANNEX.  So, when he writes that “no council meetings were broadcast on our local TV station,” RASHID IS AGAIN LYING.
Rashid is well aware of how hard I worked at the station, and I have an entire email file going back to 2004 that kept everyone in the loop as to my progress. I have an entire email file of my correspondence with Rashid himself wherein I discussed with him the issues facing the station, even after I left.
In addition to private email correspondence about this, here is a link to Rashid’s own blog back in 2008, along with my comments on my efforts when I worked at the station—in addition to this, I have a set of email correspondence with Rashid (going back even before that time) wherein he lauded my efforts and said that he shared my frustrations: 
Rashid goes on to insinuate that I was deliberately not taping meetings because I didn’t want the public to see what was going on at council meetings. As I said before, Rashid knows full well that there was NO camera equipment.  I immediately set out to research and purchase the first of three camera/lighting/sound packages (one for use by the station, the other two for use by the residents of Plainfield) while, at the same time, discussing with the City Administrator and Public Works Director (at the time, Norton Bonaparte and Priscilla Castles, respectively) the technical challenges that I would have to deal with in getting a live feed (which is what I thought would work best in addition to repeating the programs on the channel) from the city hall library for the agenda sessions, as well as the municipal court, where the city council business meetings are held.  
I also provided detailed monthly reports on every aspect of work that I did at the station—these reports, with timelines and action plans, were submitted to Norton and copies were in the station archives when I left. I have been in several conversations with current Advisory Board Chairman Lamar Mackson about the files and policies and other paperwork that I left at the station—he said that many items were not there—I left a full and thorough accounting of everything when I left.
Another Rashid Lie
When I was hired in July 2004 to become the part-time Station Director at 21 hours a week, I was the only employee. I was NOT hired for $50,000 per yearRashid just made it up because it sounds good, I guess. Anyone can check the budget from that year to see what I actually made, or ask Karen Dabney, the Personnel Director for the city—feel free to do so.  I worked 3 days per week, doing all the technical and managerial work related to the running of a station all by myself—Rashid knows this and yet repeats his lie—dishonesty reigns once again.
Rashid knows what I had to do to make the station work: upgrade the old computers and purchase new software for the bulletin board equipment, upgrade the Internet access for the city hall annex, and other equipment—trying to squeeze all this into 21 hours per week. In addition, I was also focused on finding a new space for the cable station, as the current space is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act—one of the spaces that I surveyed with Norton was the now-notorious basement of the Tepper’s building on East Front Street, which was also being considered for city council offices at the time.
As I was working through these and other significant challenges, I also had to create policy manuals for the “public access” portion of the station—I submitted these through Corporation Counsel and, after a thorough review, they were approved and set in place. So, working three days a week—doing programming, building and maintaining the community bulletin board, holding community workshops in the evening to introduce the station to residents who wanted to serve as community producers, and analyzing, reviewing, and ordering equipment, all within the space of 21 hours a week. In addition, when there were technical emergencies (given the age of the city hall annex and its attendant wiring problems), I had to go in at night or on weekends (receiving no compensation, by the way) to reboot the entire system if it went down. Rashid knows this, too. 
Rashid himself, the so-called champion of transparency, has blogged about how difficult his purported struggle has been to get the meetings on the air—two years is what he said it took—why, then, would he make up lies about how long it took me to try to get it done? I only worked at the station for about 20 months as the only employee—with absolutely no equipment, and doing every aspect of the job alone—and the majority of that length was part-time. In addition, I met with the directors of other member stations of the Jersey Access Group (JAG) to get input, and I represented our city at conferences related to public access—Rashid knows this as well.
I spoke to Ray and Norton and Priscilla about the next phase of operations, i.e., getting the meetings broadcast on a regular basis. I told Ray that I was in the process of dealing with the significant audio challenges presented by the city hall library’s terrible acoustics—he said that he wanted to be kept in the loop about my progress there. Ray also wanted to proceed very slowly with the idea of airing the council meetings—he told me that, as council president, he wanted to talk to the other councilors about the best way to proceed. I responded that while I was figuring out the technical aspects, I would be happy to discuss everything with the council. At the same time, I had asked Ray and other community people to assist me in gathering names for a cable advisory board, per the ordinance creating the station.
I created a website, a station subscriber email list that had nearly 200 subscribers in a very short time, and a number of other initiatives that fell by the wayside when Sharon Robinson-Briggs fired me as soon as she got into office. I have advocated for the meetings to be broadcast ever since. Rashid knows this.
So, when he writes that the task was “undone” by me when I was fired, Rashid ignores a number of email exchanges that he and I had regarding my efforts to get the city council meetings broadcast both while I was at the station as well as after I was fired. In those emails, Rashid applauded my attempts to get the council meetings broadcast, and I thanked him for his efforts after 2 years to try to get the meetings broadcast. He said he knew how hard I worked to get them on the air, and he appreciated my efforts. Many of the comments I made to Rashid are also posted on his council blog for all to see—just go back to the archives from 2008 and see for yourself. You are also welcome to contact me to receive copies of those emails.
That is why I am so shocked and disheartened by Rashid’s decision to lie and attack me for my efforts to serve in the public interest by posting these smears and outright lies. The email exchanges he and I had with each other were all in the public interest (or so I thought!), so to see Rashid misrepresent, mischaracterize, and outright lie about my efforts to lobby him and the other councilors on behalf of transparency shows that he is now using the playbook of his mentor to try to win this election.
I have already sent to my subscriber list the exchanges between Rashid and me going back a few years—for those of you who are mutual friends of both of us, and who were on the fence about your support, I thank you for considering these Rashid’s smears as a reason to now support me for council. Rashid’s dishonest, unethical behavior throughout this entire campaign speaks volumes about his weakness, cowardice, and lack of character.
No matter what happens with this election, Rashid will have to live with the fact that he has lied, smeared, manipulated, attacked, and demonstrated his lack of character during this campaign. To have an individual such as this representing us for another four years would be simply unacceptable.   
Plainfield needs REAL CHANGE, INDEPENDENCE, and HONESTY on the city council at this critical time, which is why Cory Storch and Adrian Mapp have endorsed me. In addition, I am thankful for the number of emails and calls of support that I have been receiving from friends and other voters and Plainfield residents who are angry and see through Rashid’s desperate lies.

I hope that voters consider the honesty and character of the representative whom they will elect as their Democratic candidate for the 2nd & 3rd Ward At-Large council seat when they go to the polls on Tuesday, June 8th, because it is a question of character, independence, ethics, and honesty. Councilors Cory Storch and Adrian Mapp understand this clearly, and this is why they have endorsed me to serve with them.
All best,

Endorsed by Councilors 
Cory Storch (Ward 2) and Adrian Mapp (Ward 3)

Rebecca Williams, City Council Candidate
New Democrats for Plainfield


Column D
Vote Tuesday, June 8


  1. Kudos on pointing out some facts. I too was troubled by the removal of comments from the Councilman's Blog as he could always decide to simply delete or edit the ones he found irrelevant or offensive. Again, I commend you for battling the windmills in Plainfield.

  2. There's enough hot air in this post to power all the windmills in our town.

  3. How much were you paid in each of the years that you were Station Manager?

  4. To Rob: I guess if I am trying to be a public servant, I should hear what the public wants to say. I will delete comments that I find off the wall, ad hominem, and those that use expletives.

    To Anonymous at 11:55 am: I am all for wind, solar, tide--clean energy!

    To Anonymous at 12:42 pm: I would have to check my tax returns from 2004, 2005, and 2006 to give you an accurate figure. In 2004, I worked part-time (21 hrs.) from mid-July to December; in 2005, I worked roughly half the year part-time (21 hrs.) and the second half (after the administration requested that I work 35 hrs.) full-time. In 2006, I only worked two months full-time (35 hrs.) before the mayor terminated me. Public employee salaries are a matter of public record, though, so you can check on it.

    Unfortunately, since it was truly an old-school corporate firing--wherein I was literally walked out of the office, the station went blank (blue screen) for a few months until they hired someone to try to get it going again. The station was partly automated, but as I was beginning to change over from analog to digital, a live person had to be there to access the various media submissions--some in VHS.

    After I began working at the station, I told Norton Bonaparte that I thought I would only be at the station for a couple of years, as I was working toward a career in academia. Many of the stations in areas surrounding Plainfield use volunteers and maybe some part-time staff to run their stations. I think that, given the local talent in Plainfield, we could have a great corps of resident community producers working on programming at the station to really make it shine. I have many friends who work/volunteer at public access stations (mostly in NYC--Manhattan and Brooklyn), and they are able to get a lot of community programming on the air. That is what we should be aiming for--when I was at PCTV-74, we had several programs from local people that would air on occasion, but the idea was to show municipal government in action, to have a "Mayor's Corner" program, a "Councilors Corner" type of program, and also to have programs produced by Plainfielders and those in the surrounding area. Many of the community organizations/clubs/sports leagues tape their events--we can do a lot!

    All best,


    P.S. I now work at Essex County College in the English Dept., Humanities Division--since it is a county institution, my salary there is a matter of public record as well. I have been there since September of 2006.

  5. I for one will be voting for you! I am sorry I was not at home when you stopped by!

    Shellie Mackson