Time to move on in Carbon Hill

Posted

I am running out of reactions on Carbon Hill. There are days I feel sorry for the town, what with murder, tornadoes, finances. And Facebook postings. 

When will it end? I hope soon. We may have at least taken one step. 

Saturday afternoon, about a year after our first encounter with Mark Chambers' postings on Facebook, citizens were passing around on Facebook his latest comments (via screenshots), and someone sent them to the paper as well. This time the comments, clearly a posting, involved outrage over the video that the University of Alabama football and coach Nick Saban posted, promoting the Black Lives Matter movement. 

I didn't plan on doing anything about the posting; it was vintage Chambers, although you hear all that on other posts. Then again, other posts are not from the mayor. (I thought the video was rather tasteful. I've seen more radical. I think if I were to make a big fuss, I would pick on a professional player or team rather than a bunch of college kids.) 

Anyway, I saw people passing around the comments through posted or texted screenshots, as frequently as salt and pepper shakers at a restaurant. 

Then about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, I got a text from someone in Carbon Hill that the mayor had resigned. (As one friend later texted, "Really? After everything this is what did it?") Later we learned the resignation took effect like 4:30 p.m., so he must not have seen the screen shots for long. 

About 5:40 p.m. I decided to text Chambers. I couldn't get him by phone so I texted and said I apologized to interrupt on a Saturday but I had an unconfirmed report he had resigned and was trying to get a confirmation to at least post a headline if nothing else, if it was even true.

"Make it up as you go Ed you have done a good job of that so far," was his reply. 

"Mark this is serious. I haven't made things up," I texted, forgetting a comma in my frustration. "I just would like basic confirmation. I try not to bother you these days."

"Move on," he replied. "I'm asking you not to contact me anymore." I replied OK. Let us hear his name no more, I thought to myself. But so it couldn't be said he didn't have his say, I let him take the potshot in the story. And here. 

My problem was that I still needed someone halfway in charge to make a statement. In time, I couldn't reach Pro Temp Greg Anderson, who was said to be at work, and I (surprisingly) didn't have personal numbers for City Attorney Steve Thomas and the city clerk, although I thought it was likely they hadn't been involved anyway. From what a source told me, the mayor had taken his letter to leave at City Hall, and I doubted anyone was there on a Saturday night. 

Some of us at the paper texted madly at each other - should we use "a source said" and so on - but I felt we couldn't do anything until we had better sourcing. I hadn't talked to anyone in charge, not seen the letter, had nothing from the mayor - so considering I was talking about a big resignation for this area, I felt I had nothing. I finally won the day.

Then I began to lose the battle. One TV station quoted an unnamed council member and said he had resigned. Another station quoted nothing at all but reported the news. At a time when the media is criticized for its behavior, I couldn't believe stations would have such loose sourcing to send a news alert on the weekend. 

That was topped on Monday morning about 8 a.m., when the Associated Press - the gold standard, in my book - put out a story, sourcing media reports - in other words, the stations who only used one or no sources, apparently. 

I was getting ready to drive to Carbon Hill, but the AP really made me impatient at that point, so I called. Having no sourcing hang over me from Saturday night to Monday morning on a major story is not something I recommend for one's blood pressure and sleeping abilities. But on the phone I got the confirmation on the letter from City Hall; a short time later officials got me verbal communication on the wording of the letter (what little there was) and written notice of the Wednesday night meeting. It was quite late, but what we put out Monday morning was much more solid and informative. (Since everyone rushed to the internet, we decided to release the story early, too, once it was done.) 

I hope now Carbon Hill can now get past this. In the story the other day, I started to write about Chamber's legacies - the drive to get lighting on the interstate, efforts to improve the pool and the police department, the Fourth of July event - but beside of problems with the length of the story and the focus, I realized all of that was overshadowed by statements that were carelessly tossed out on Facebook. Just as I thought stations rushed to get something on, a mayor should sit there and think what he says and when it says and what he says before rushing to post online. Even in your off-time, you are always representing your city or town. 

Since last year's debacle, Chambers has been the elephant in the room. He now leaves as qualifying is about to start, and so everything will start fresh. It is at least an opportunity, although the city faces serious problems with its finances, industrial and commercial recruitment, tornado cleanup, COVID-19, community harmony and cooperation, infrastructure needs and so on. 

One admonition from Chambers turned out to be correct. It is time to move on. I hope Carbon Hill can do that now, and regain its stride. 

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Ed Howell is news editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at 205-221-2840 or at ed.howell@mountaineagle.com.