Editor's Views: Conspiracy theories unfair to loyal Janesville officials, workers

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Scott Angus
Saturday, July 5, 2014

Complain if you'd like about City Hall and the services it provides.

Taxes are too high. The potholes are ridiculous. We don't need to spend $9.5 million on a new fire station.

It's your right to question and gripe and encourage the city to rethink and possibly change its priorities.

I might disagree, but I respect that thoughtful people with this city's best interests in mind will have different ideas about how Janesville spends our tax dollars.

Chronic conspiracy theories, however, go too far. They accuse good people of doing bad things without evidence, and they are unfair to employees and elected officials who are working hard to make this city better.

The latest round started with a local businessman who questioned whether a recent fire inspection at his business was retribution for his involvement in petition drives to stop the fire station and require voter approval for expenditures of $2 million or more.

The businessman, financial advisor Chad Karl, didn't claim outright that the inspection and subsequent finding of violations were payback, but he walked up to the edge. As reporter Neil Johnson documents in a story on Page 1A today, which follows a Tuesday story indicating the same, Karl's suggestions are unfounded.

Yes, two inspections occurred in a relatively short time, but the city's explanation is reasonable, and paperwork backs it up. Karl didn't have any records to bolster his concerns.

If Karl lighted the fuse of this latest conspiracy theory, petition organizer and frequent city critic Bill McCoy added fuel. McCoy claimed publicly that the inspection of Karl's business amounted to intimidation and that many residents who would like to sign the petitions now are reluctant because they fear the city would retaliate.

McCoy detailed his claims in a letter delivered to the sheriff's office and district attorney:

“In my opinion, these actions by the city of Janesville agencies and employees in the case seem to be taken to act as a means of voter suppression, intimidation and to curtail or stop petition circulating or obtaining signatures.”

Give me a break.

OK, maybe some residents feel intimidated and fear retribution, but that's mostly because Karl and McCoy have whipped up a level of paranoia that is without foundation.

Do these people really think Fire Chief Jim Jensen and his staff have time to figure out who supports the petition drive and then devise ways to punish them? More than that, do they really think Jensen—who is as ethical and honest as they come by virtually every assessment—and his people would stoop so low as to target folks who are exercising their right to petition the government?

Sorry, but that's not believable.

At this newspaper, we aggressively pursue any hint or suggestion of corruption in local government. In a perverse way, we sometimes hope to find the fire behind the supposed smoke because unscrupulous officials and their inappropriate or illegal actions can make for interesting and often award-winning stories.

Through the years, though, we've found next to nothing of the sort in Janesville and Rock County. You might think our elected officials are wrong-headed, but we've found no evidence they are corrupt.

That holds true in this case, as well. Those who suggest otherwise are impugning the reputations and credibility of dedicated public servants. That's wrong on so many levels.

Scott W. Angus is editor of The Gazette and vice president of news for Bliss Communications. His email is sangus@gazettextra.com.

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