Rep. Presnell invited to directly communicate with the press

Feb 15, 2017

In her most recent newsletter, Rep. Michele Presnell took The Mountaineer to task after we published an article about her legislative committee assignments.

Rather than being grateful for the free news item, the newspaper was accused of “media malpractice” for using information from her legislative newsletter “House Update” without attribution.

Technically, Presnell is right, and in this case, The Mountaineer didn’t say where the information was obtained, but she is not right in saying the information was “essentially copied.”

Information on Presnell’s committee assignments in the House of Representatives, which is available in many other places, was gleaned from her newsletter and a brief story was crafted to conform with AP style. Folksy information in the newsletter was eliminated, but a quote from Presnell that was part of her newsletter was included in the piece. The editor felt it would be awkward to quote a news source who was quoting herself, so the source was omitted. It was a nice story with a photo and, frankly, we’re surprised she made such an issue of it.

We would love to have a conversation with Rep. Presnell about a number of items, including her stances on local issues directly pertaining to Haywood County or general legislative issues, but Presnell consistently fails to respond to emails or messages left on her cell phone.

For instance, two resolutions are heading toward Raleigh that only impact Haywood County — one to increase the Haywood occupancy tax and another to make the elected tax collector an appointed one as is the case in the state’s 99 other counties. Presnell has failed to respond to questions on either issue.

Despite her lack of communication, The Mountaineer always strives to cover Presnell’s activities the best we can, including her campaign, her selection to introduce Donald Trump when he appeared in Asheville and even letting our readers know which committees she’s been appointed to. We have and will continue to do our job. It is important to note that both Rep. Mike Clampitt and Sen. Jim Davis respond quickly to our inquiries and seem to appreciate our deadlines and our attempts to better inform our readers, who are their constituents.

Presnell’s disdain for the press is disturbing on many levels. First off, the media is tasked with providing readers information on all sides of an issue so they will be able to make a decision on how they view a situation. When politicians refuse to answer timely questions, it is a disservice everyone.

Media questions might be uncomfortable, but are generally ones voters will have, too. They deserve answers. Voters deserve to know an official’s chain of thought in making a decision, who helped influence them or simply to better understand what they are thinking. All are necessary parts in deciding who to vote for in the next election.

For instance, consider this statement made by Presnell in her newsletter: “I learned of a large Amazon.com, Inc. distribution center being planned for around Cincinnati, OH. Because of their proximity to I-40, US-74 and points south, the towns of Canton, Clyde, Waynesville and others may benefit from increased traffic through the corridor.”

Maybe we’re missing something, but we don’t understand how a distribution center in Cincinnati is good news for Western North Carolina. It would be nice to further explore the benefits, but without conversation, all who wondered about the statement have no context in which to consider it.

The Mountaineer has an open door policy to all our elected officials, including Rep. Presnell, who we invite to re-open genuine communication as opposed to taking passive-aggressive potshots.