With the current war of words between the President of the United States and various media outlets, it might be easy to think the fight over a free press is something new.
But, the struggle to report the news—good, bad, or indifferent—is older than the printing press, and happens everywhere … even in Boyne City.
The most recent concern locally came when Boyne City Gazette Publisher Chris Faulknor attended a meeting for concerned citizens by a group calling itself “BC Residents First.”
“Our office was contacted by phone and by at least two people in person regarding the meeting,” said Faulknor. “We were told that it sounded like an important event, and were asked by one of the attendees to come to the meeting to cover it for the good of the city.”
The Monday Feb. 13 meeting occurred in the Community Room at the Boyne District Library.
The meeting had to do with the Boyne City Housing Commission’s proposed Boyne Villa housing development.
According to Barb Young, the concerned citizen who called the Boyne City Gazette, petitions have been circulated in opposition to the proposed development.
“I am a citizen—a Boyne City citizen—and if something’s going on in town, I have a right to know and I have a right to voice my opinion.”
She said she hoped that including the media would help educate the rest of the public on this important matter.
The issue arose after the Boyne City Housing Commission submitted a conditional rezoning application for a 7.81-acre parcel of property (15‐051‐335‐084‐40) to go from a Traditional Residential District (TRD) to Multiple Family Residential District (MFRD) so it may construct the Boyne Villa, a housing development with up to 64 two-bedroom units and 10 single-family units.
Upon arriving at the Feb. 13 meeting, Faulknor was told that it was not a public meeting. He then left to research the matter, and the decision was made to cover the meeting for the following reasons:
1. The meeting regarded a matter of public interest;
2. The meeting was held in a public facility;
3. The press had been expressly invited by an attendee of the meeting.
Upon his return, Faulknor was pelted with questions and insults, and at least one person threatened Faulknor’s person and his camera.
All this exists on an audio recording in the possession of the Gazette.
The Boyne Villa project was supposed to go before the Boyne City Planning Commission one week after the citizens group’s meeting. But, the Feb. 20 housing commission appearance was cancelled.
On Thursday March 2, Boyne City Housing Commission Executive Director Jane MacKenzie told the Boyne City Gazette, by phone, that she has not been contacted by the group BC Residents First. Nor had she received any petitions opposing the project.
And, MacKenzie said, the citizens group had nothing to do with the housing commission’s appearance being cancelled from the last planning commission meeting.
“Due to recent developments, the Boyne City Housing Commission is requesting to withdraw the Boyne Villa development from the Feb. 20 planning commission agenda,” stated MacKenzie in a Feb. 15 e-mail to Boyne City Planning Director Scott McPherson. “We hope to meet with the planning commission in March or April.”
Boyne City Manager Michael Cain also said he had not heard from anyone, nor received any petitions, regarding the Boyne Villa project.
The property is located adjacent to the north side of Dear Meadows and the Boyne City Senior Center.
The land is now vacant except for trees and other vegetation.
During the Jan. 16 planning commission meeting, a public hearing on the property rezone request was held, during which many dozens of citizens spoke out against or shared concerns about such a development.
During the Feb. 13 citizens group meeting, Young, the woman who invited the Gazette to the meeting, also told the rest of the meeting attendees that she had invited the press. She was admonished by some in the crowd for having done so.
When he refused to leave, Faulknor was told the police would be called.
He was also told, by one person, not to cover the meeting in the newspaper or he would face “losing support” and, when he took pictures of the meeting, he was threatened by another person with a lawsuit should the Gazette publish any of the photos.
A library staff member on duty made a call to Monica Kroondyk, Assistant Director of the Boyne District Library for guidance on the matter. She told him the Gazette had the right to be at the meeting.
In a later interview, Kroondyk said, “As far as the library is concerned, people using the meeting room have no expectation of privacy. If they choose to call the police or attempt to have someone removed, it’s on them.”
She added, “Officially, as a library, we don’t guarantee anyone’s privacy. That means pretty much anybody can walk in if you’re using our community room.”
The pertinent portion of the Boyne District Library’s meeting room policy states, “In accordance with the Michigan Public Accommodation Act, any group whose membership is open to all, without restriction based on sex, race, or religion, may use the Library’s meeting rooms at no charge. This includes any professional or government group, or any local, organized, non-profit group in the Library service area. The rooms may be used for non-partisan, non-sectarian, or educational programs, and for other occasional purposes which do not involve the sale of goods or services…. Rooms may not be used for birthday and anniversary parties, weddings, funerals, or other individual or family purposes.”
The people running the concerned citizens meeting decided to cancel it rather than allow the press to attend.
And, despite a rumor reported back to the Boyne City Gazette, Faulknor was not escorted out by the police, as no officers ever arrived during or following the meeting.