Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Mayor's Spokesperson Calls TAB Photo issue "Contrived"

The sun has finally come out in Newton, but Newton TAB photographers aren’t capturing that light at the Newton North High School construction site, because they aren’t welcome.

As Dimeo Construction pours cement, puts up dry wall and affixes windows around the city’s single largest expenditure, the one that will act as the legacy for a mayor who has spent more than 2 decades in elected office, the question remains: does the local paper have the right to photograph the site as it’s under construction?

The TAB believes it does, saying that the people of Newton need to see what their tax money is buying, that their photographers are trained to tell a story with their images and that it’s unfair for Dimeo to allow city officials to snap photos, but not them. Dimeo, it should be noted, gave a TAB reporter a tour of the site, but prohibited a photographer from coming along.

And apparently most of the people running to fill the soon-to-be-vacant mayoral seat agree with the TAB. Though, the skeptic in me says it's an easy position to take while running for office.

Of course, there are photos being taken of the site and posted on the Newton municipal Web site,
buried in a not-so-pretty way and offered up with no context or captions. One such image is shown here.

When asked about this, Mayor David Cohen's spokesperson, Jeremy Solomon, noted that the city “compelled” Dimeo to offer up the photographs and they’re being taken by someone who has other construction duties. In other words, just a guy with a camera. Solomon believes this is enough to satiate the curiosity of the general public.

“I don’t think there’s a huge public outcry about being informed of the progress of the school. Right now Dimeo has its hands full trying to meet a very aggressive construction schedule. It doesn’t make sense to have a construction worker spend even more time to caption photos after he’s downloaded them,” he said.

“There are a least a dozen photos published each and every week on the city website. When the construction manager advises that they do not wish to have outside photographers on the site, defying that sentiment we believe does not serve the public interest.”

When asked whether the city could request specific photos or ask for additional information about each image, since this has obviously become an “issue” around the city, Solomon shook off the idea that the photography flap is an issue at all. He said the city, and the mayor, are better served focusing on getting this job done on time and on budget, “not on quelling controversies that are being contrived by the media.”

Yes, you read that right, “contrived.”

“The issue that the TAB is raising here is the TAB’s issue. In terms of informing the general public of the progress, these photographs serve the purpose.”

Solomon said that he would only change his stance when he felt public sentiment shift. While the writers on various blogs have been rather outspoken on the topic, Solomon laughed on the idea that these opinions mounted to much. “I read blog traffic, and I take it for what it is,” he said. “I’m not certain advocating to alter public policy based on some blog traffic makes sense.”

As for what kind of outcry or feedback he’d deem enough, Solomon would only say: “There is not one singular channel of communication; there are multiple ways we keep in touch with the people of Newton. Mayor Cohen has been doing this a long time, I have been doing this more than 5 years. We have seen real issues that are decided by the people. We think that the people of Newton are best served by receiving the building that people that we expect on time and on budget.”

Take that for what it is, considering that Cohen has been famously derided for being out of touch with his electorate.

I tried reaching Dimeo to talk about this issue. In fact, I'd love to speak with the photographer(s) working on this project, but my calls and emails were not returned.


Greg Reibman said...

Fascinating how Jeremy Solomon keeps saying that the decision was made by Dimeo and yet, he "said that he would only change his stance when he felt public sentiment shift."

So who's decision is it Jeremy? If it's Dimeo's, what "stance" is it that you would change?

Ross Levanto said...

Hey Chuck-

Given the Mayoral race currently underway in Newton, I wonder if any of the candidates have a stance on this?

Chuck Tanowitz said...

Three of the four talked about it with the TAB and their comments are here:

But while they all say the right things none are pushing on the mayor or Dimeo to allow for the openness TODAY.

In a series of comments on the TAB blog Alderman Greer Tan Swiston says that the board could vote on the issue, but she believes it would amount to little more than grandstanding. Comments are on this post: