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Conflict is all about appearances

We have moved from one classic tale to another. Earlier it was “A Tale of Two Cities,” in which The Union lamented that Nevada City was not willing to grow like Grass Valley.

Now we have moved on to “Les Miserables” in which the relentless inspector Javert unmercifully pursues Jean Valjean for stealing a loaf of bread. Casting in these respective parts are Jeff Ackerman and Bruce Conklin

But there is a flaw in this latter metaphorical tale. To be true to form, Jean Valjean would have only given the appearance of stealing the loaf of bread.

This conflict between The Union and Bruce Conklin is all about appearances – the appearance of a conflict of interest.

And that boils down to intent. What were Bruce’s intentions in the dealings with the North Star House? Was it his intention to set himself up to profit from the Dryden Wilson fund?

The accusation raised by Mr. Ackerman that “Conklin traded integrity for money” has itself raised an issue of intent. Did he trade journalistic integrity to engineer a Board of Supervisors more to his political liking?

So which is it? One can never know. No man can look into the heart of another. But we can do what every jury does in such circumstances and that is to look at the circumstantial evidence.

Going back to a time shortly after Olivia Diaz – a Latino – announced her candidacy for supervisor, Mr. Ackerman revealed that the source of Nevada County’s land-use problems was illegal aliens coming across the Mexican border and that “developers do not cause Urban Sprawl, they try to accommodate it by working through myriad land-use rules and regulations to provide housing for the inevitable Urban Sprawlers, such as Olivia.”

From this and many other instances relating to growth, one might conclude that Mr. Ackerman has brought to Nevada County a bias in support of developers, those who only struggle to “accommodate” needs brought on by forces outside their control.

The circumstantial evidence supports the notion that Mr. Ackerman might not only resent the candidacy of Olivia but Bruce’s candidacy as well; Bruce’s campaign theme was that we must only accept growth that respects our past.

Next, what is the circumstantial evidence supporting the view that it was not self-interest but community interest that inspired Bruce? Those who have followed his career as supervisor recall that he has displayed a long-standing interest of supporting Nevada County’s historic traditions. He has worked to help the St. Joseph Cultural Center to survive, helped to put a roof on the Miners Foundry, helped to preserve the horse ranch at Loma Rica, etc.

The circumstantial evidence suggests that Bruce saw the restoration of the North Star House as an issue in harmony with his fundamental values. For this reason he secured the funds from the Dryden Wilson Grant, and, when he left office, finding himself unemployed and attracted to a job which would allow him to fulfill his natural affection for historic buildings, applied for the job to manage the restoration.

The Nevada County Land Trust testified to the propriety of the selection process. I know many of the board members and I trust them.

But this is all circumstantial. We all have certain biases that we bring to bear in judging motives. In the words of Blaise Pascal, “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know,” or, expressed more colloquially by our publisher, some have “their bumper stickers stuck so far up their noses that they can’t smell the stink.”

But there is a larger issue here that goes beyond personal judgment, and that is the responsibility of the journalist. The Land Trust held a press conference, fearing that their side of the story wasn’t being told. At this conference the question was asked whether anyone on the Land Trust board had been contacted by the authors of the editorials before publication. The answer was, “No.” Mr. Ackerman has given the appearance of trading journalistic integrity to promote an agenda.

These will be difficult times for our community. The Union, our principal means of communication, has helped to engineer a 5-0 Board of Supervisors, no longer respects traditional journalistic standards, and is on the slippery slope of suppressing dissent – it has revoked the venerable tradition of publishing on this page all qualifying letters. Not our finest hour.


Jim Hurley is a resident of Nevada City.