Triton College Trustee Merrill Becker leveled pointed criticisms of Riverside-Brookfield Landmark parent company Wednesday Journal Inc. both during and after a committee meeting last Wednesday.
The 19-year veteran of the college’s Board of Trustees lambasted the paper in general for its recent coverage of the school, and particularly for what he called the unfair implications of an August story that outlined political contributions of Triton management staff to board Chairman Mark Stephens. Becker also took the paper to task for an editorial critical of the Triton board published in the Landmark on Aug. 30.
“They’ve been attacking us, no question about that,” he said to the committee.
Becker, a Riverside resident, took specific issue with an Aug. 16 article that outlined how board members and top management staff had donated as much as $9,700 to Stephens or the Rosemont Voter’s League over a five-year period. Several top contributors from Triton management have recently received raises and or promotions. That, said Becker, implied a certain quid pro quo that he said didn’t exist.
“Our take is, and has been, that you attack when you don’t have to,” Becker said after the meeting about the paper. “It appears you’re trying to sell newspapers through negative coverage.”
He acknowledged that the college made changes to the conduct of its monthly board meetings after an article outlining repeated violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act. Specifically, the article noted that the Triton board had repeatedly entered into closed-door meetings prior to formally calling their open meetings to order, and had not followed proper procedures for entering into those closed sessions, including required role call votes. Many of the closed sessions were also not noticed in published agendas prior to the meetings.
The college issued a press release last week stating that it had corrected those mistakes, would be convening its board meetings an hour earlier at 6 p.m., and going into closed session after formally convening meetings.
Becker took issue with the newspaper’s treatment of that story, however, calling the board’s prior actions “an honest mistake,” that he insisted needed only “one phone call” to correct.
“You correctly pointed out that we have a problem with our meetings,” he said. “But the way you presented it was, we were trying to pull a fast one.”
Becker also took issue with the editorial titled, “Triton board: How not to govern,” that ran in Riverside/Brookfield Landmark and its sister papers, the Forest Park Review and Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest. The editorial criticized what the editors saw as less-than-open management of Triton by a board that appears to be micromanaging issues. The editorial also expressed concern that the Triton board has experience little turn over in the last 15 years, during which time it has been run by the same chairman, Mark Stephens,
Becker seemed to particularly bristle at the suggestion that voters in District 504, which is composed of Riverside, Brookfield, North Riverside and over 20 other communities, might be uninformed regarding Triton management and issues.
“We will continue to cover Triton until then so voters will have more background for casting their ballots,” the editorial read.
Becker accused the papers of basically suggesting that they know better then the district’s voters, saying, “I interpret that as [newspapers] saying that voters aren’t smart enough and don’t know what they’re doing, but they should listen to you on how to vote. What you seem to miss is that [Triton] trustees are elected by a majority of people in this district.”
Becker also responded to the editorial’s urging individuals to come forward as candidates to run in next April’s election when two Triton board seats are open.
Replied Becker, “Go out and find somebody else and let them run.”