Is Jenkintown Matters Ethical?

Of all the overheated accusations hurled at Jenkintown Matters found on social media, a lack of ethics is maybe the most curious. According to at least one follower of the Jenkintown Community Page (group), citizens publishing research about their local government on their own blog without revealing their names is unethical. 

Ethics, as I understand it, helps us understand the difference between good and bad, and simply put, something “bad” deprives someone of their rights.

Jenkintown Matters formed last spring in response to revelations about the Borough’s secret internal discussions about contracting police services from Abington Township. The only reason any of us know about these discussions is because Jenkintown Matters filed right-to-know requests to get them.

All this information is now publicly available for any resident to do their own assessment and come to their own conclusions. I’ve yet to read anything on the JM site that, for instance delves into the private affairs of any borough official, elected or otherwise.

Shooting the Messenger

But for some, it’s not the message. It’s the messenger. Borough Council secretly votes to spend $20,000 on a media consultant to help them manage the blowback, but some take umbrage at the lack of a byline in the article exposing this?

Then John Higley, who joined our community only a year ago, piles on with might be the most specious claim.

My problem is not their activity, it’s their lack of transparency, standards, and ethics.

Let’s explore that last one for a bit.

I can give Mr. Higley some very good reasons why some of these residents choose to remain under the radar. 

This blog has my name all over it. And thanks to that, I’ve found myself verbally abused, not only by residents saying to my face “why don’t you just move already”, but also by council members insulting me and my family on social media. They and others have even stooped so low as demand my employer fire me. Worst of all, my daughter caught flak from her peers at school.

Some of us have the stomach for this. Many others well-remember Jenkintown’s documented history of weaponizing its zoning code against those that challenge its political agenda. 

So, Mr. Higley, what exactly is the ethics issue here? How have your rights been violated? This is local politics after all, not microbiology where a lack of ethics can get people killed.

What is Not a Lobbyist

Mr. Higley went on to describe Jenkintown Matters members lobbyists.

…they are acting as lobbyists. Lobbyists should be transparent, federally, they’re required to be, but this is municipal, so yeah, it’s probably all above board from a legal perspective, but that doesn’t make it right. I’m not concerned with or accusing them of any illegal or untoward activity. Everything I’m seeing looks like a group of concerned citizens with maybe too much time on their hands and a bit of arrogance regarding their abilities as non-journalists acting as journalists and lobbyists.

Mr. Higley equivocates. A lobbyist, as most of us understand the term, is a paid proxy hired to bring influence upon public policy on behalf of a special interest. A taxpayer meeting with their rep doesn’t qualify. I doubt residents are treating council members to dinner or vacations to get more action on business district revitalization — although that might not be a bad idea. 

Finally, a quick word about amateur journalism. I have no degree in journalism. I do, however, have forty years of experience as a designer, writer, and publisher. This blog represents only a small part of my work, which includes two books and a magazine and website I ran for sixteen years. Having been a news junkie from eleven years old, and having been on both sides of the journalism fence — as subject and reporter — I’m rather glad I don’t have a degree in the field. It’s a waste of money.

If Mr. Higley wants to cite ethical violations, he’ll find plenty in Borough Hall. Unfortunately, he claims he doesn’t have the time to research them. Maybe not now, but after he lives here a while, and the Borough finally does something to offend his sense of ethics — which it will — I’ll bet he finds the time.

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