By PACO NUNEZ
Tribune News Editor
URBAN Renewal has vanished completely from Grand Bahama.
Admitting defeat, administrators of the much-touted crime prevention and social assistance programme have shut up shop and headed off in search of greener pastures.
At least, you'd find it hard to resist getting this impression if you happen to rely on The Tribune, tribune242.com http://tribune242.com , or any of our affiliated radio stations for your news.
Strangely enough, those who prefer other media organisations might find it equally difficult to avoid arriving at the exact opposite conclusion: that Urban Renewal is alive, well and flourishing on that island.
How to account for this seemingly mysterious paradox?
First, we should head off the familiar gaggle of PLP conspiracy theorists by affirming it's not the result of some sinister plot by The Tribune to exclude the government's flagship programme from coverage.
Since the election, Urban Renewal has arguably enjoyed more attention from this newspaper than any other story.
Nor is it an exaggeration of Urban Renewal's successes on the part of other journalists and broadcasters.
No, the only plausible explanation seems to be that for some reason, we've been intentionally excluded from the Urban Renewal public relations party.
Press conferences are happening, official statements being released. Dangerous neighbourhoods are being rehabilitated and grateful residents interviewed – we're just not invited.
If Urban Renewal is actually doing great things on Grand Bahama, someone doesn't want Tribune readers to know about it.
But, considering the enormous amount of time and effort that has gone into promoting the scheme, why would anyone in the government want to exclude the most-read newspaper in the country?
The move seems counterproductive to say the least.
While there has been no official explanation, an interesting clue suggested itself when our Freeport reporter called the head of Urban Renewal on the island, Michelle Reckley, to ask about the programme's progress.
Mrs Reckley, it seems, is upset. She isn't speaking to The Tribune under any circumstances.
The former cook and school caterer said that by asking in an earlier interview for a list of her qualifications relevant to leading a cutting edge, interdisciplinary, social intervention task force, we tried to make her lose her new job.
It seems she feels that by printing her response – she's qualified for the job because she "lived urban" – we were trying to suggest the PLP assistant secretary general had been given the post as a reward for political services rendered.
Never mind that the issue had been raised, not by The Tribune, but by the opposition.
Never mind that we were simply giving her a chance to defend herself in her own words – which she agreed to do.
Forget that the public actually has a right to be assured their money is being spent on a qualified person.
No, Mrs Reckley simply isn't going to speak to The Tribune anymore.
Now admittedly, the case is rather circumstantial, but could the perceived slight against Mrs Reckley not help explain the Urban Renewal public relations mystery?
It seems hard to imagine another reason for The Tribune being kept in the dark about the progress of the agency she heads.
Surely, the leaders of the PLP couldn't be the source of the problem.
Their decades-long grudge against this paper notwithstanding, Christie and Co undoubtedly appreciate the implications of letting so many members of the public believe Urban Renewal has stalled, especially on an island so badly in need of its services – and in relation to which so many campaign promises were made.
But if Mrs Reckley has indeed "gone rogue" as it were, and is promoting the programme selectively without permission, the party needs to justify its earlier defence of her appointment.
When the "I lived urban" story broke, PLP chairman Bradley Roberts was particularly vocal in standing up for the new director.
Mind you, he didn’t mention how she was qualified, preferring instead to emphasise that the FNM also appointed a party official to run Urban Renewal.
But the question of qualifications is still relevant, this time in a more fundamental sense: if Mrs Reckley has failed to notice that everyone else connected with Urban Renewal has been doing everything humanly possible to promote it, how does she qualify as a good representative of the party in the first place?
And, should she be holding a post that depends so heavily on understanding communications, if she cannot appreciate that in refusing to speak to The Tribune, the only interests she has harmed are those of her government?
It's certainly no skin off our back if Urban Renewal comes off looking ineffectual.
If the PLP does not explain these things, they can't honestly expect people to believe Mrs Reckley was selected because she is absolutely the best person for the job, who just happens to be a senior party official too.
If they don't explain, the public might even start wondering how its money is being spent in other contexts as well.
People might, for example, begin to ask what journalism or broadcast background former Christian Council president Rev Dr William Thompson has, which could possibly qualify him to be the new head of the Broadcasting Corporation of the Bahamas.
And considering the shake-up at ZNS TV and radio, over which Rev Thompson presides, they might also ask about the selection of Andrew Burrows, the PLP's former webmaster, as the new news director. Or the reappearance of former ZNS employee Julian Reid, brother of the PLP's public relations manager during the election.
In fact, a great many recent appointments could raise questions along these lines – in particular those placed in charge of rather specialised agencies, whose names happen to be prefixed with "Rev".
Of course, it may well be that all these people are more than qualified, and are unquestionably the best choice for their respective posts.
It may be that the PLP is not, as has been claimed, all about "jobs for the boys" to the detriment of the public good.
And I suppose there could be an altogether separate, entirely reasonable explanation for the state of affairs between The Tribune and Urban Renewal in Grand Bahama.
I'd love to ask Mrs Reckley herself about it. Shame she won't talk to me.
What do you think?
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