The website, Common Sense, Saratoga (CSS) published two stories on the city’s contract with the company SiFi. SiFi is to construct a citywide fiber optic network to connect our residential and commercial properties to the internet. The stories focused on what the author(s) allege were the gross inadequacies of the contract. I will be writing about the substance of CSS’s two articles in more detail in a later post but in this post my focus is on my attempt to find out who had produced these stories.
For me these CSS stories were immediately problematic because of the following issues:
- The articles had no author attribution
- Normally with blogs of this type, there is a dialogue box below them where readers may respond. Not in the case of CSS. This omission is an indication of the site’s approach to what it considers to be a “forum.” In the universe that the individuals behind this website live, there is no need to provide a vehicle to hear from its readers regarding individual articles.
- The writer(s) regularly took contract items out of context or made regrettably inaccurate statements alleging, for instance, that things were not in the contract that in fact were.
With all this in mind I wanted to find out who wrote the articles and also, if the author was not an attorney, who assisted the author in evaluating the contract. To give the reader a flavor for the challenges of understanding the contract without the assistance of an attorney and/or a technical person, I offer this excerpt:
“Substantial Completion” means the point at which, the Core and Trunk of the System has been installed such that it Passes the addresses of each of the Primary Premises and the System is capable of providing Service to each such Primary Premises (but for the lack of a Drop) or four (4) years post Construction being commenced, whichever event occurs first; provided, however in the event SiFi Networks cannot install the Core and Trunk of the System or other necessary equipment or otherwise make the System available to a particular Primary Premises because of a lack of a right to access and use the Public Way due to the City not possessing the right, title, interest or authority to permit SiFi Networks to use and occupy the Public Way or other lack of access or right to access and use property, or if there would be an incremental material cost to access property or install the System such that the cost to do so would be at least twenty percent (20%) or more higher than the average cost to provide service to other Primary Premises within the Boundary, SiFi Networks shall not be required to make the System available to such Primary Premises, and Substantial Completion shall be deemed to be achieved notwithstanding the failure to Pass and make the Service available to such Primary Premises. SiFi Networks shall provide the City with justification for any Primary Premises to which the System will not be available.
Mr. Boyd, in his later emails to me, asserted that one did not need a law background to understand this contract. He generously attributed to me the ability to read and understand it. In fact I had to rely heavily on lawyers to work through the document.
It has been my experience, though, that issues that involve the law are often more complex than lay people commonly assume. Things that I thought were obvious became anything but when I have attended legal proceedings. Terms that I understood as having meaning in common parlance turned out to have very different meaning as regards statutes and regulations. There is also a major area of law that deals with implied assumptions which means that there is more to a contract than just its clauses.
CSS does have a “Contact” menu option where the reader is allowed to submit a comment to the managers of the site. I wrote them a brief note simply asking who the author/authors were and if an attorney was involved, the name of the attorney.
In a casual conversation with architect Jim Martinez, I learned that he had submitted several comments to CSS regarding problems he found with their articles but that his input had neither been published nor even acknowledged. Those who follow my site know that Jim’s comments on my site are always thoughtful and constructive. They are free of the kind of ugly invective that is too common to social media. I can only speculate that the reason they ignored his offerings was that they undermined the message they wanted the public to absorb.
The readers of this blog may recall that CSS was originally totally anonymous but after quite a bit of public criticism, the site published a list of three of the “Founders” for whom I had email addresses. Having, like Jim, received no reply to nor acknowledgement of my inquiry, I wrote to the founders, Gordon Boyd, Ann Bullock, and Bob Turner. I wrote what I considered a respectful note (See below) asking again for the author or authors of the article and the name of any lawyer who might have provided assistance. I pointed out that the site presents itself as being a public forum (from their About page):
“COMMON SENSE, SARATOGA will create forums and opportunities through which all citizens will be able to express the civic values embodied in our Mission Statement.” [JK: The site does not contain a mission statement]
I promptly received a note from Gordon Boyd. I think the tone and substance of Mr. Boyd’s letter is instructive and worth the reader’s time to read it. Mr. Boyd makes absolutely clear that:
1. He takes some pride in not reading my blog.
2. CSS has no intentions of publishing anything I might write to them.
I hope the readers of this blog find this response as disturbing as I do. There was a time, not too far in the past, when people valued listening to one another and showing the tolerance and respect that is a source of learning for all parties and that to behave otherwise was to bring some shame upon themselves. How disheartening that we live in a different age.
Ann Bullock is an attorney. Bob Turner is a professor of political science. Gordon Boyd is a successful businessman who has been active in city politics for almost fifty years. I expect that were you to engage them about our President and his base, they would offer contempt for those people as being rigid and mindless in their hostility towards anyone who disagrees with them and yet here we have these three individuals openly embracing the same qualities they abhor in others.
Many of the readers may be familiar with the term “Potemkin Village.” Miriam Webster defines it as “An impressive facade or show designed to hide an undesirable fact or condition.” According to Wikipedia:
The term comes from stories of a fake portable village built solely to impress Empress Catherine II by her former lover Grigory Potemkin during her journey to Crimea in 1787. While modern historians claim accounts of this portable village are exaggerated, the original story was that Potemkin erected phony portable settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to impress the Russian Empress; the structures would be disassembled after she passed, and re-assembled farther along her route to be viewed again as if another example.
CSS is a “Potemkin Village.” Its purpose is a classic example of the worst aspect of social media. It is graphically well designed to impress those who go to their site. It asserts its values as openness and inclusion in the best tradition of our country.
As Mr. Boyd’s emails make clear with amazing candor, this site has no interest in such standards of fairness, however. In fact, CSS is an advocacy vehicle with a rigid and focused purpose. It is meant to attack and damage the reputations of the elected officials it sees as its opponents (enemies might be a more accurate characterization). It consciously blocks voices that would undermine its mission.
What I find particularly distressing is that it resonates with so many people. When you attempt to point out the misrepresentations promoted by this site, there are many otherwise thoughtful people who respond very much like the Trump supporters. In the case of some of the Trump supporters, they know and acknowledge that he plays fast and easy with facts, but they embrace his goals and dismiss his behavior as incidental and unimportant. Similarly, the network of this group is either uninterested in any counter views at all or supports the narrative that the incumbents are part of an old guard that needs to be replaced and while the narrative of Gordon et al may be exaggerated, the underlying “truth” is correct.
The fact that the people behind this site refuse to participate in discussions that would provide a forum to critically assess their allegations should be a source of embarrassment. This is all about public manipulation and “winning”; whatever that means.
What a truly sad state of affairs.
My email exchange with Gordon Boyd and the founders.
A few further observations. Mr. Boyd asserts in the emails that the articles have been “peer reviewed.”
This is normally associated mostly with scientific articles. Fundamental to the concept of peer review is that those reading the papers can view who the reviewers were and decide whether those reviewing the work were both disinterested and qualified to pass judgement on it. Mr. Boyd would have strengthened his claim had he shared with the readers of his website who the reviewers were.
He goes on to refer to “the experienced business professional on our team.” Here again, the “business professional” as well as the “team” all remain anonymous.
In his second email he asserts: “Our CSS editorial committee is accountable for the articles we post.” The website has no masthead or other format stating that an editorial board exists let alone who is on it.
Subject: Articles On SiFi Agreement
June 16, 2019 at 1:52 PM
To: Gordon Boyd, Ann Bullock, Bob Turner
From: John Kaufmann
As my inquiries to Common Sense Saratoga have gone unanswered I thought I would contact you three directly as you have identified yourselves as the founders of this site. In promoting your site you have gone to great lengths to assert that it is transparent and that it invites community involvement and sets a priority of inclusion including those you may disagree with. I would like to know:
1. Who wrote the two articles on the SiFi contract?
2. Who was the attorney who analyzed the contract and provided the critiques as published on your site?
Identifying authorship seems fundamental to transparency and accountability.
Similarly, given the arcane nature of the language in the contract, a reader would reasonably want to know what expertise was brought to understanding and analyzing the contract.
I think most people of good will would find my two questions both reasonable and courteous. In fact, most people of good will would want the answers to the two questions.
Thank you in advance for answering.
Subject: Re:Articles On SiFi Agreement
June 16, 2019 at 2:46 PM
I think, in the interests of integrity and accountability, you should decide whether you are a practicing journalist, independent of political activism, or a political activist, masquerading as a journalist. I don’t read your blog, but I suggest that rather than pretend to be a journalist asking questions of us, you do you own home work, and if you find that our conclusions are incorrect about the SiFi contract, publish that on your blog. That is your First Amendment right. At CSS, we do our homework and subject all articles to peer review. It doesn’t take a practicing attorney to find the faults in the SiFi contract, but we had one look at it to confirm the views of the experienced business professionals on our team.
To: Gordon Boyd
From John Kaufmann
Subject: Re:Articles on SiFi Agreement
June 16, 2019 3:45 PM
The issue is not whether I am a journalist. Your promotion of your blog admirably seeks to be an inclusive community forum that encourages all in our city to participate as part of a democratic dialogue. Like you, I am a citizen of this city and as such I do not understand why I should be excluded from participating.
More centrally, I do not know why you would feel the need to withhold who wrote the piece and who the attorney was that you used as a resource regarding the accuracy of your analysis of the contract.
With respect I hope that you will reconsider answering my questions which I think were offered both courteously and reasonably.
Thank you in advance, for
To: John Kaufmann
From: Gordon Boyd
Subject: Re:Articles On SiFi Agreement
Date: June 17, 2019 10:15 AM
Repeating your previous argument does not make it more persuasive. Over the many years I have known you, it is one of your least endearing qualities. Again (and repeating my own previous argument), I encourage you to read the SiFi agreement yourself and come to your own conclusions. You were in business and government for decades, and I am sure you dealt with more complex agreements yourself. You should have no trouble understanding it, or finding the areas that we think put the city at undue risk.
Our CSS editorial committee is accountable for the articles we post. Sometimes, these days, people focus too much on who is the messenger of the criticism, rather than dealing with the substance of the criticism. The latter is more difficult, but more civilized IMHO.
Good luck with your blog (which, again, I don’t read) 😊