Claremont Insider: Dept. of Corrections

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dept. of Corrections

We noticed of couple of errors in today's LA Times article about Claremont Mayor Ellen Taylor's Cookiegate and wanted to correct those.

First, the article indicates that we here at the Insider broke the story:

"It was such a negative experience," said [Girl Scout parent Maia] West, who has lived just outside Claremont for nine years. "Here we are trying to empower these young girls to be entrepreneurs, and this woman shuts them down."

A few days later, West made what would be a fateful decision: She sent an e-mail chronicling the incident to the Claremont Insider, a popular blog in town known for gossipy items and sharp jabs at local politicians.

It was an anonymous editor of the Claremont Insider who named Taylor the "Claremont Cookie Monster" in a series of biting posts.

Readers responded with their own comments, the vast majority siding with the Girl Scouts.

On the blog, the mayor became known as "Queen Ellen," "Wrong-Way Ellen," "Tough Cookie Taylor" and "Her Honorable Majesty."

It wasn't long before the Claremont Courier picked up on the story, publishing readers' letters ridiculing Taylor for taking on the Girl Scouts.

"I actually felt sorry for her after a while," West said.

As much as we'd like to take credit for finding this story, the fact is that Claremont Courier reporter Tony Krickl first wrote about it in the paper's edition of Saturday, March 15th. The article is not posted in the Courier's online archive, but if you're interested you can probably request a copy from the Courier.

We were impressed that Krickl and Courier could get the story into that Saturday's paper because the incident occurred on Friday, March 14th, and there couldn't have been much time for Krickl to get the article into the paper before the Courier's Friday press time. The Courier gets mailed out on Friday, so the paper needs to be printed and off to the Post Office in time for delivery on Saturday.

The Insider did not pick up the story until Sunday, March 16th.

We did, of course, have our fun with the story, but any credit for breaking the news has to go to Tony Krickl and the Courier.

Similarly, we cannot take credit for applying the term "Cookie Monster" to Taylor. Fellow blogger Centinel over at Foothill Cities first used that term on March 27th. (And another local blogger, Frazgo, used the term "Cookiegate" in a comment to Centinel's post.)

Lastly, while we have used terms such as "Queen Ellen" and "Wrong Way Ellen" to describe Taylor, those really were unrelated to the Girl Scout flap. The Queen business predates the cookie incident by a couple months.

Really, the point of all these things is to point to a pattern of arrogant personal and official behavior by Taylor that is not limited to any one incident. That arrogance, when applied to public issues, leads to bad decision-making.

Further, in our view Taylor exemplifies much of what we believe to be at the root of Claremont's problem: a small-town with great potential, run into the ground by a self-righteous, incompetent, humorless elite that often behaves more like a high school clique conducting its business at social gatherings around town.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Girl Scouts, the trouble is merely annoying or funny. Other times, as in the early 1990's when the city invested over $5 million in the Orange County Investment Pool that later went bankrupt, when the city's insurer had to settle a suit for an 18-year-old motorist shot to death by Claremont police, or when the city had to pay over $17 million to settle a suit with homeowners whose houses burned down in the 2003 Padua Fire, the effects are expensive and tragic.

Our error in Claremont is that we consistently fail to see the underlying pattern. Ellen Taylor will move off the public stage at some point, but until we really change the way business is conducted in this town, we will inevitably face another embarrassing situation brought on by Taylor's successors.

It has been thus for over 20 years and will remain so until voters in town wise up and correct things once and for all. Queen Ellen is a symptom; she is not the disease, and we'll continue on in chronic dysfunction as long as we support the people who stand behind Taylor.