Sunday, November 25, 2007

Durham Deck; H-S editorial both weak

An editorial in today’s Durham Herald Sun begins:

In August, City Manager Patrick Baker decided not to tell the public about an engineer's report that warned a city parking deck was in danger of collapsing. Given the possibility, however remote, of a calamity, we have to question that judgment. And we also question why the report, first submitted to the city in June, didn't reach Baker until August 24. . . .

Earlier this year, an inspection revealed cracks in 35 beams supporting the deck's upper floors. In June, the engineers' initial report said the beams could shear without warning.

You might think that would be scary enough to grab someone's attention, but it was not. City officials now say that because a General Services project manager resigned in March, the report wasn't fully reviewed until August. By then, the engineers had issued a follow-up, saying one or more beams could fail near their intersection with the walls, causing "a localized floor collapse." . . .

He said he was told the deck didn't need to be closed, but that repairs needed to occur quickly. Administrators responded by closing off the highest levels of the structure. Recently, signs advised trucks and SUVs to use adjacent surface parking.
On Tuesday, City Council authorized $783,900 to repair the deck.

It seems clear that the city needs to review its procedures so that such serious matters make their way quickly to decision-makers. And we think that once Baker learned of the problem, he should have alerted his bosses on City Council.

One more point: If the city thinks it isn't such a good idea to park SUVs in the deck, why is anyone allowed to park there.
The entire editorial is here.

The H-S’s question about whether it’s a good idea to park any car in the deck is on the money. It’s also important to ask why the city is requiring parking fee collectors and janitorial staff to work there and allowing citizens to use it.

But excepting the H-S’s one on the money question, its editorial is as weak in its way as the parking deck is in its way.

The H-S doesn’t demand the public release of the engineer report and all communications relating to it: both between the outside engineers and city officials and the correspondence, including emails, city officials had among themselves.

That public has a right to read those reports and related correspondence.

Why didn’t the H- S demand the city disclose whether the engineering firm agreed there was no need to immediately inform the public?

Why didn’t the H-S ask whether the city had informed the insurance company which covers such contingencies as a collapse of part or all of a Durham City owned parking deck?

Assuming the city has coverage for such a catastrophe (Mind you, I’m not saying it has. This is Durham we’re talking about.), was the insurance company informed of the engineer’s report? If so, was the company satisfied the parking deck remain open?

The H-S makes no mention of Mayor Bill Bell whose reelection it recently endorsed.

When did Baker first tell Bell of the engineer’s report? What did they say to each other? Why was the public only told of the danger after Bell’s reelection?

The H-S editorial doesn’t ask those questions. But a newspaper that was looking out for the safety and other interests of Durham’s citizens would've.

Baker’s first public disclosure of the parking deck danger came last Tuesday on the eve of Thanksgiving when the news was guaranteed to get the least amount of public attention.

Five days later the H-S has not reported on any public statement Mayor Bell has made regarding the parking deck problems.

In fact, today’s editorial doesn’t even mention Bell.

Tomorrow is a regular business day. It would have been in the public’s interest for the H-S to ask today that Mayor Bell immediately issue a statement saying whether he encourages citizens to use the parking deck tomorrow.

But do you expect editor Bob Ashley’s editorials to be in the public's interest when the public’s interest conflicts with the interests of Durham’s power brokers?

Previous posts on the parking deck danger:

Durham Parking Deck Problems: Who Knew What When?
(Nov. 21, 2007)

Durham Parking Deck Problems: Comments (Nov. 23, 2007)