published: Friday, June 22, 2012
An apology and a correction
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
It is never easy to admit a mistake, which I am doing in this column.
It is especially difficult when you are burdened with the truth you may have done harm.
As a reporter I have a special obligation to be careful -- misleading readers is the worst mistake a newspaper can make.
When we reporters mislead our editors and publishers by being over-confident in our facts, we hurt them, too. Everyone loses: the editors and publishers who trusted us, the readers who counted on us and most of all the subject of whatever report was wrong. It is the subject who has to live with the fallout.
I wrote an article about a meeting held by the police and fire pension fund board that took place June 14. It was printed in the June 20 edition on page 3A.
The issues were complex and participants spoke quickly, dealing with complicated, hard-to-understand procedures, rules and regulations. I am not saying this to excuse myself -- on the contrary, it meant I should have been even more careful, not double checking but triple checking more than just what I thought were the facts but also my understanding of them.
While I thought I had done due diligence, in fact I had not.
In an effort to be accurate I contacted Avon Park City Manager Julian Deleon by e-mail after the meeting, to be sure I had understood his positions.
He replied by e-mail with extended comments to my questions and impressions. He was clear and concise.
He took the time to send two e-mails, one with corrections to the first.
I worked off the wrong e-mail. This, too, is on me. In the introduction to the e-mail I received, Deleon directed my attention to portions highlighted in yellow. The e-mail I used had no highlighting. I should have immediately been aware there was something wrong. It did not occur to me. I thought the yellow had disappeared when I printed it out.
As a result of this error I misquoted Deleon, thus misleading our readers about the points he actually made.
The worst harm comes from the fact that I did this in an article dealing with a subject -- police and fire pensions and their costs to the city -- which is highly emotional and affects many people.
My mistake made a difficult and painful issue harder to discuss and resolve.
I apologize for my errors. I promise to make a more concerted effort to be sure my understanding of any situation is accurate. I promise to double check any correspondence to be sure I am operating off the same page as whoever sends an e-mail.
I especially apologize for inflaming an already volatile situation. All I can say is that it was not done with forethought or malice.
Here is what Deleon wanted the public to know:
"The (pension) membership has a fixed 5 percent contribution, the city's obligations have increased every year since 2004. The contribution for fire was $45,000 in 2004, it has more than tripled in seven years to $175,000 annually. I have concerns over the long term sustainability as the city's obligations have continued to increase yearly. There is another increase planned for 2013.
"With $150,000 yearly commitment in administrative fees, I urged the board (of trustees for the pension fund) to re-examine the rates paid, and the service received.
"I have uncontrollable expenditures, which pose a long term liability to the city.
"... the board is spending about $150,000 annually in administrative on a recurring basis. If there is a way to competitively procure some professional services, this could lead to savings, which would lower the city's obligation to contribute to the plan.
"(Pension fund administrator) Carol Knapp stated that the pension board did not receive any notice of my presentation on Monday night (the regular city council meeting on June 11) she stated that she did not receive any notice at all -- that she just happened to show up that night. I responded by saying that I provided pension board member (Jason) Lister with notice that these items would be raised as part of the budget presentation of scaling city costs, which also included all city departments, health insurance, and risk insurance costs. I further stated that Lister informed me that board member Robinson had been noticed, then Robinson that he informed pension plan administrator Carol Knapp. She was at the meeting, and her comments do not comport to those of the others present, which opposed her recollection of events.
"A police board member claimed that the plan had earned $300,000 in 2010. I stated this was not a true market 'gain' and the increase was most likely the result of the city's contribution for $166,000, the state contribution for $56,000 and the membership contribution. The pension attorney agreed to some degree with my comments.
"There were several complaints raised that city staff had presented wrong numbers in past years, and I clearly stated that I have only been here a year, and should not be judged by past practices.
"The board also stated that the New-Sun and the plan administrator incorrectly reported my comments (in an article published on Wednesday, June 11) regarding my Monday presentation to council. Some board members felt that my presentation was selective and unfair. I disagreed and take the position that the presentation was on target, factual and highlights the heavy administrative overhead incurred from managing the pensions. I urged the board to look at various avenues, which could be available to reduce expenses. I have taken this same position with all city services, not mutually exclusive to the board. If fees are reduced, everybody wins."
As always, any time an error is pointed out, the News-Sun appreciates the opportunity to set the record straight, as we are doing in this case.
Error (by: L Hunt - 6/25/2012)
It was a wonderful thing to see this. Good for you Mr. Tuffley. I respect what you did here.
lynd (by: citizen - 6/24/2012)
Could you please explain why my comments are wrong. I got alot more facts.
Take his lead (by: Bluekid - 6/24/2012)
Mr. Tuffley is an editor and a scholar.
Take his lead (by: blukid - 6/24/2012)
Mr. Tuffin is an editor and a scholar.
Get a Life (by: Lynda - 6/24/2012)
this is to "He is a joke" seriously, get a life.
Thank You for being professional (by: Ray Napper - 6/23/2012)
It's nice to see you explain what happened but those who don't understand a person such as you, would never offer that one up and wouls search for other meanings.
Apology (by: Brother in Blue - 6/23/2012)
We all make mistakes. Don't let this set you back. I am sure there are no hard feelings. And if so,,,they need to get over themselves and reflect to see if they have ever stepped in the same mess.
Nobody cries for the messenger (by: Chad DuBose - 6/23/2012)
Christopher don't be too hard on yourself my friend. Everyone that knows you that saw an error should realize immediately that there would be some sort of "glitch" responsible. You deal with an enormous amount of information. It is only humanly natural that sometimes mistakes will occur. Especially when faced with deadlines. Fact is a clarification would have sufficed, but showing your human side, you have taken it a step further and given an apology worthy of far bigger mistakes. We love you and all of the great stories. I consider you a friend. Don't over apologize. You always double check leads. This sounds like just an old fashioned example of too much information to be processed in too little time. The true story is the story itself, regardless of how it was presented by you or anyone else. Spending time being mad at you is kinda like Elvis breaking a television because he saw Nixon waving goodbye on it. Nixon still said goodbye even if television had yet to be invented.
Stepping up (by: pluto - 6/23/2012)
You have to give someone credit and integrity when they step up and acknowledge any mistakes.
Apology accepted... (by: foodforthought - 6/23/2012)
Tuffley is apologizing for the mere fact his job could very well be in jeopardy since all any Highlands County employer needs is for that door to open up a crack, just a crack. Good luck Tuffley, I completely understand your position.
Thank you (by: Citizen - 6/23/2012)
Wow. A responsible person being human and setting the record straight. Wish the government would do the same.
Honesty (by: no1rick - 6/23/2012)
Regardless who was the subject of the article, or the opinions of that person by others, your extended apology and explanation was that of a person who really cares about his/her profession and obviously has learned from this episode.
Your Bad (by: Non-sequiter - 6/23/2012)
The mistake you made didn't warrant this kind of apology to Deleon, your readership or anybody else. Deleon sent two emails and is as much to contribute to the error as is the reporter, if not more so.
He is a joke (by: citizen - 6/22/2012)
Deleon is trying to cut back so he can get yet another raise. Before hiring him they raise the starting pay to attract more qualified and experienced applicants. Then they hired him with no experience and gave him a raise shortly after hiring him. And just bought him a nice vehicle to take home to the other side of lake placid . Figure that cost in every day in fuel alone. Mybee he should look at his own spending along with maria
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