Working together for a better future… or not?

Working together for a better future… or not?

When Janie Hobart first ran for mayor against Peter Martselos in 2007 it was apparent that Martselos had done his thing and it was time for Fort Smith to move on. But there was concern among the electorate about the viability of Hobart to hold that office.

I organized a pre-election all-candidate’s debate, as I had done for years. I asked former town councilor Wes Steed to moderate and we came up with a list of questions that were asked of all councilor candidates. These were mostly general topics, just giving candidates the opportunity to stand up in front of the community and show their stuff. There were more questions that were much more challenging for the two running for mayor though, along with the opportunity for rebuttal, so they could demonstrate the depth of their knowledge, capabilities and intelligence.

Hobart had obviously studied hard, and won the debate hands down. After it was over, some people with very small minds circulated rumours that the only way Hobart could have done so well was if the debate organizers had slipped her the list of questions in advance. After that I never organized a political debate again.

In the two years leading up to the last municipal election when Janie Hobart would run again and this time win, Fort Smith was like a war zone. The Salt River First Nation was in conflict yet again, the mayor and council were becoming ever more dysfunctional and it would be an understatement to say the town administration was not doing well.

Fort Smith was not a happy place to be running a local newspaper. After all that was over and the electorate swept out the old and chose a new mayor and council, I was tired of it all and quite looking forward to dealing with this new, energized group of community leaders. So I was bewildered to find I was getting a very angry “vibe” from newly minted Mayor Janie Hobart. That continued for months after the election and at one point when I asked her what the problem was, she said the newspaper was “too negative.”

That same accusation had emerged in the past from others, but always in the lead-up to an election from someone trying to discredit us because they thought we were not on their side (discrediting your opponent is a common Fort Smith election tactic it seems). But there was no election pending and that attitude from her did not make sense at the time. I took 12 newspapers, the last three months’ worth, to town hall and asked that she go through them and list all the negative stories so we could find and then discuss them with us to understand her problem. I then arranged a meeting with the new mayor and took my wife and partner, Sandra Jaque, our advertising sales representative Jeff Turner and our then senior writer, Shawn Bell.

It was early in January, 2010. We met in the mayor’s office. During the meeting we were soundly criticized by Ms. Hobart. Everything in the Slave River Journal is negative, she said. Everything Shawn Bell writes is negative. We do not write about the right stories. She gave us a list of subjects she felt we should be writing about. When I asked her to review past issues and to show us what in particular was wrong, she refused. Nothing was resolved.

We were amazed and disappointed. There must be something else behind this, but what? Why would a newbie politician early in her first term be so combative with someone who wanted to work with and support her? And why would she go out of her way to alienate the local media?

Anger toward the Slave River Journal continues to emanate from the mayor’s office, to this day. I have asked several times for an informal meeting at committee of the whole with town council and the Slave River Journal editorial team, following the town policy requirement to request such a meeting, but all have been refused.

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