Readers’ complaints real
The ongoing kerfuffle concerning this newspaper’s weekly column, The Gripe Vine, and members of the Rossi administration have made – in a certain sense – good copy. Gripe Vine writer Eleanore Turkington, who has written the column for 16 years, has defended herself and her column admirably against what has become a somewhat nasty allegation.
Put simply, Turkington has been accused either by innuendo or implication of making up some of the complaints that are printed. Those allegations, heard before during various administrations, seem to arise because Turkington withholds the names of those who send issues into the paper.
Let us be perfectly frank. Most of the complaints that come to Voice office come via the US Postal Service. Readers take time to write out their complaints, using either the coupon provided in the column on a regular basis, or by typing their complaints on a separate sheet of paper. The letters are filtered back to Turkington, again by mail, so that she can investigate them.
We said “most” complaints are via snail mail. Some come from the West Haven Voice’s website, and are sent to Turkington and the editor. Again, those complaints are then reviewed and investigated. In most cases the reader puts his or her name, address and phone number. Some are left blank. Those are discarded.
Yet, given these precautions, some members of the political establishment in town have complained that certain issues brought up in the column have been red herrings. In a few cases the issues have been on private property, or there has been an errant address, sending officials on a wild goose chase. While there may have been errors in transcription or reporting, we can say without hesitation that this has happened in only a minimum number of instances.
A few weeks ago, we attempted to get city politicians to understand the frustration of some residents when it comes to complaints aired in the column. Are some complaints petty? Yes. Are some complaints wrong-headed? Sure. Are some complaints without merit? Here we can say, no!
Over the last several years, the residents of West Haven have seen their city whittle away services while increasing taxes and other levies in order to make ends meet. It is fully understood by the vast majority of people in town that city government is running on a subsistence level. There is little money to do things that we would all like done, let alone doing those that are necessary.
However, knowing the city is in dire straits doesn’t absolve city officials or city departments from responding to those issues brought up by their constituents or taxpayers. Many of the issues brought up in Gripe Vine are of the nuisance variety. A hedge blocking a stop sign needs trimming, or a crack in a city-maintained sidewalk poses a problem to pedestrians. These or similar complaints are the things that most of the letters address. Also, we get questions concerning blight ordinances or the “Boot Program,” or other issue.
In all cases Turkington attempts to give quick responses. It is only recently that there has been a backlog, and rather than address it, some city officials would rather complain themselves. They should get over it. It comes with the territory.
In a city where taxpayers are having less and less to say as to what goes on with city finances, and are asked to pay more and more taxes, the minor issues that are brought up in the Gripe Vine become magnified. These are the few issues residents know can be addressed – and should be in a timely fashion.
As to the allegation, implied or otherwise, that some complaints are manufactured by the columnist, we give a loud and resounding, no. People are afraid of retribution if their names get out. Given the history of political power in town, those fears are well founded.
In order to further show the letters are original and authentic, the paper has asked Turkington to use the first name or first initial of the writer and the street on which they live. This allows politicians some assurances, while providing anonymity to those who wish to withhold their names.
The Gripe Vine has proven to be an effective voice for the residents of the city. We stand by our columnist and the work she has done, the body of which has been stellar over a 16-year period. We have no plans to ax the column, which is good news to readers, and bad news to some politicians, who seem to forget for whom they work.