Montpelier City Manager Bill Fraser asked me to clarify a term I used in my recent op-ed, calling Montpelier Executive Director Dan Groberg a “city official.” While I never actually used Groberg’s name in the commentary, it was implied, by circumstance, that he was complicit in an ongoing debate with The Times Argus. I thought Dan was a city employee because, as director of Montpelier Alive, his office is in City Hall. Dan’s phone number is a City Hall extension, and Montpelier Alive’s website is linked with the city’s. Bill clarified that approximately 20% of Dan’s salary is appropriated by the city. I did not think to ask if Dan’s benefits are tied to the city. Bill said: Dan is not a city employee. I apologize for my confusion.
Bill also questioned whether Dan encouraged merchants to stop advertising in The Times Argus. I had heard this from an Argus staffer, so I repeatedly asked Times Argus Editor Steven Pappas to clarify. He wrote me the following:
“In the weeks following the November 2018 election in which Montpelier voters were asked to consider publicly funding a parking garage project, Montpelier Alive Executive Director Dan Groberg indicated his organization was withdrawing its support from an upcoming holiday promotion with The Times Argus, a dues-paying member of Montpelier Alive. The reason given at the time was an opposition to the newspaper’s pre-election editorial asking voters to consider that the parking garage project might be moving too quickly, and required more due diligence. The editorial did not oppose the overall project, but rather its short timeline. Later, in an email to the newspaper’s management, Groberg concluded the editorial’s position was seen as ‘anti-business,’ and that his organization, which serves a segment of the Montpelier business community, could not support the newspaper given its perceived stance.
“The November vote, of course, narrowly won voter support for the project despite our editorial. In the weeks following the election, as newsroom staff and representatives from The Times Argus advertising department made their rounds around the Capital City, it appeared certain Montpelier business owners — a few of them longtime newspaper advertisers and supporters — also were upset and, likewise, stated they were withdrawing their continued support, suggesting a boycott of the newspaper over its ‘anti-business’ position on the parking garage issue. The misinterpretation has been disappointing, to say the least.
“As a longtime business in central Vermont that has loyally served thousands of readers each day for decades, we have never seen our role as either pro-business or anti-business — but as a reflection of the community that we serve. It is not about us as individuals, or even as a newspaper. Everyone in a community is stronger when building partnerships, not tearing them down. At The Times Argus, we know this well. In the newspaper’s darkest hours, after a flood took out our presses in Barre in 2011, we never begged for community support nor sought sympathy over our catastrophic struggle; we simply carried on, not once missing an edition against unbelievable odds. The central Vermont community supported that perseverance, sticking by us.
“That is what we do: We proudly serve a devoted audience, even if we are attacked for doing so, often without good reason or validity. The messenger is the simplest of targets. It is our job to push through, raise questions and provide answers so that our readers can make educated decisions about what happens in their community — good, bad or ugly. Disagreement provides perspectives, and it is a healthy and necessary part of that process; it is neither a hindrance nor a liability. As such, we will strive to provide perspectives through news sources within our award-winning reporting, as well as in keeping open our editorial page to the opinions of all central Vermonters — not just one group over another.
“While I am sorry there remain individuals around Montpelier who feel the newspaper was wrong or out of line for taking its position last November, and they still seem to harbor a certain resentment toward our duty to all readers, I won’t apologize for the coverage of the issue, nor can I apologize for asking voters to pause a moment before spending taxpayer dollars for years to come. Readers should be more angry and indignant if we had ignored the issue, or never asked.”
I appreciate the reminder to check facts carefully in times of heated debate.
Sandra Vitzthum is a Montpelier resident and an appellant in the case challenging the Design Review Board’s decision to issue permits for the parking/garage and hotel.