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Wife auctions and bad flacks

I’ll begin my first column of 2019 by looking way back through the lens of the Bluegrass Clipper to Jan. 6, 1898. (Dear Readers can find that item and the rest of the Clipper excerpt on page 8.)

The latest enterprise in connection with the gold fields of Alaska is to be an auction sale of wives to miners, to be held in Dawson City (in northwest Canada) this spring. A man is now in Kentucky trying to secure women to go to Dawson to be sold to the highest bidder. The man claims he has secured a number of women from Auburn, N.Y.

Now that I would have paid money to see, though perhaps not as much as the cold, grizzled aspiring gold miners would have bid for brides. A quick search of a National Park Service website revealed no information about bride sales, or how much a fetching woman would have fetched at auction in 121 years ago.

Also in this week’s Clipper are items about the old Hotel Woodford (across the street from the present-day library) and a 74-year-old multimillionaire from New York who married a Versailles lass 46 years his junior who was his “former” wife’s niece. Interesting and sometimes quite odd bits of history are the kinds of things you get in the Sun each week – along with fresh stories about government, feature pieces, sports and letters to the editor, so please keep reading. I’ve got a big car repair bill to pay, and my Sun embezzlement scheme has thus far netted only a few pens and paper clips, the worth of which seem likely to decline in this digital age.

Bad flacks

Last Thursday, Dec. 27, the day before the final fiscal court meeting of the year, I left a voicemail with the communications director for Gov. Matt Bevin. I asked the same question I posed when leaving a voicemail with Bevin’s press secretary, on Dec. 12 – whether the governor had responded to a Nov. 28 letter from County Attorney Alan George. George’s letter noted that state law required Bevin to appoint a successor to the late Judge-Executive John Coyle within 30 days of Coyle’s death and asked that he appoint Judge-Executive-elect James Kay, who’ll take office anyway Jan. 6.

This attempt to confirm such things is a routine part of the job, but an important one. I called the two press aides not because I didn’t believe George when he said he’d gotten no response, but because the Bevin Administration deserved a chance to take part in the stories.

Hey, maybe the governor’s letter got lost in the mail.

Twice.

As you may have guessed by now, neither press aide returned my calls.

I had a similar experience in October 2017 when I called a public relations professional with the state Transportation Cabinet, about the Weisenberger Mill Bridge replacement project. That press aide did come to the phone, then asked me to submit my questions by email. Email correspondence is usually a poor substitute for interviews by phone or in person – it’s harder to ask follow-up questions, if they’re needed – but I did as he asked.

You guessed it! He never responded, thus a story about the Weisenberger Mill Bridge replacement project noting the lack of participation by the Transportation Cabinet’s press aide.

Similar tales are told by the dwindling number of journalists who cover the Bevin Administration. I suppose the taxpayer-paid flacks in question (“flack” is an old-school term used to describe press agents and their work that’s often used in a critical fashion) are probably following orders when they don’t respond to inquiries from journalists. What their superiors don’t realize, however, is that they’re not hurting the journalists or their employers so much as the public – who, again, pay their salaries. Heck, even I help pay their salaries, and I’d like my money back.

Twice upon a time, I was a flack.

In the mid-1990s, I was a communications director for a Republican congressman, and a decade later, I held the same post for a Democratic state speaker of the house. I know I wasn’t able to arrange interviews or provide every bit of information I was asked for, but, as sure as Santa was and is watching, I promise that I at least returned the calls – or, ha ha, emails. Even a “no comment” is better than nothing. It’s the – what’s that word? – polite thing to do.

With one possible exception (who shall remain nameless for now), all the public officials who represent Woodford County are responsive when contacted by the Sun. I think they see it as their duty – and they know it’s the polite thing to do.

Our state Capitol is virtually next door to our county seat, but sometimes it seems a million miles away. I wish all y’all a Happy New Year – especially those of you who return my calls.

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