A Winters Tale: The sound of silence

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Anger is one of the most undesirable and least understood emotions.

It can cause us to say things we regret. I’ve certainly done that a few times.

Anger can also move us to action, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

I’m writing about anger this week because there was an awful lot of it in the air recently when the fires broke out.

Many people in and around Winters were rightfully angry because they never got the evacuation alerts they had signed up for. And some lost everything as a result.

At our house, we did receive all of the texts, though a number of our neighbors did not.

Plus, as we learned later, not a single person received the automated warning phone call, since the system dialed the wrong number.

And so, there was plenty to be sore about.

If you read the popular local Facebook page, Winters Community Info and Tips, you would have seen anger piling upon anger. 

And during that frenzy of understandable rage, certain things were said (in anger) that should never have been uttered.

One prominent contributor to the site proclaimed, without any evidence at all to back it up, that former Winters City Manager John Donlevy was largely responsible for the chaos.

“We don’t get Winters alerts because our former City Manager refused to join the Nixle system,”  she charged, “This is outrageous and must be corrected.”

Facebookers began joining the rant.

“What kind of arrogance!”

“He knew fires were approaching and didn’t tell anyone at City Hall the alert was manually triggered?”

Others labeled his action criminal.  

One demanded a Grand Jury probe.

“Where is the humanity?” cried another.

If Mr. Donlevy had in fact done that, run off to Auburn with the code to the alert system, it would have been at the very least inhumane, and extremely negligent.

Problem is: It was not true. 

And yet there it was, moving people to anger because they automatically believed what they read on Facebook.  It’s why our former City Manager often referred to Facebook as “hatebook.”

Several days later, the original writer of the post finally admitted, rather sheepishly, that the serious charge she had leveled could not be corroborated.

“I may have been given bad information about whether or not the former City Manager took charge of our alert system,” she posted, in what barely qualified as an apology.

But it was already too late. The libelous damage had been done. The rumors had made their way from one corner of town to the other.

Of the many things to be learned from this episode, (in addition to trying not to say things in anger) is that Facebook is anything but a reliable source for hard news.

You want homemade churros, or have a kitten to adopt, or need a really good appliance repairman, log on and post away.

You want to learn if the pool is open, or see the takeout menu at Ficelle, or organize a charity event, great.

You want to accuse a former City official of criminal negligence, better be sure of your facts.

To her credit, Donlevy’s accuser (now former accuser) did advise all of her readers that any complaints about the City’s response to the firestorm should be directed at the five City Council Members.  

And then she instructed them precisely how to do that.

She posted the time and date of the next Council meeting, and the Zoom link. 

She reminded her readers that at the beginning of each session, there is a period known as Public Comment, during which anyone may address the Council on any topic.

In the past, community members have raised all manner of issues, to which Council Members, at the very least, listen politely.

How the fire emergency was handled was legitimately worthy of the public’s input.

And so, Tuesday night I tuned in as usual to the regular meeting, expecting a flurry of comments, perhaps some demands, certainly an earful of righteous indignation.

And here is how it went.  

The following is a verbatim transcript of the Public Comments section:

Mayor Cowan:  Tracy (City Clerk Jensen), any comments from the public?

Jensen: (short pause) No, no comments.

And that was that.

It’s awfully easy to criticize and call for change when all that’s required is a keyboard and a computer and a forum like Facebook.

It’s much more difficult to actually stand up and speak truth to power.

If anger is properly channeled, good may come of it.

Silence, unfortunately, produces nothing.

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