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News - Party Lines Helotes, Wal-Mart, and a flea circus

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Welcome to the age of acrimony

An anonymous e-mail sender gleefully pointed out that last week's yellow-journalism coverage of the Wal-Mart scandal in Helotes/Grey Forest was barking up the wrong tree.

"You not only spelled mayoral candidate and Wal-Mart foe Jon Allan's name wrong, you misspelled the dog's name and you got the timeline wrong." Okay, Allan's dog was unwelcome at City Hall long before he tossed his name into the hat to run for mayor against an apparently pro-Wal-Mart majority on the Helotes City Council.

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Party lines
Mea culpa to the anonymous author of the e-mail, who also anonymously publishes a website that attacks anyone who opposes a Wal-Mart at the corner of Bandera and Scenic Loop roads.

The Internet provides a convenient medium for acrimonious screeds published by angry residents of small towns. Websites can be registered without providing information that would reveal the name and address of the publisher. Helotes won't be the last little burg to feature such innovative journalism. One of these scintillating, on-line, my-version-of-the-truth journals has circulated via email in the New Braunfels suburb for several years.

Read all about it on the anonymous website.

But if you can't find it, don't worry. Helotes residents will have an opportunity to vote against a City Council that has tried to quietly clear the way for Wal-Mart to build on a property that for years has served as a geographical reminder that one is entering the ecologically vulnerable Texas Hill Country. There is a coalition of Helotes residents (and others in outlying areas) who think the whole idea is full of fleas, have fielded candidates to oust the incumbents.

Such competition inevitably results in vicious name-calling and backbiting. Mr. Incognito calls it a war, like in Iraq; but really, it's just an election. They happen all the time.

Speaking of elections, KLRN spokespeople called last week to explain that it wasn't their fault that only three of seven mayoral candidates were allowed to participate in a televised debate. The Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce was in charge of inviting the contestants.

The Internet provides a convenient medium for acrimonious screeds published by angry residents of small towns.
The debate was scheduled to be simulcast on KLRN, a public television station, and WOAI, a Clear Channel Communications property.

Rhett Smith is one of the four candidates for mayor who was excluded from the debate. He unsuccessfully tried to unseat District 21 Congressman Lamar Smith in the November 2004 election.

Smith didn't just crawl off into a corner to whimper over what he considers a constitutional right to freedom of speech; he filed a lawsuit in federal court last Thursday, seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the debate, citing "a fundamental principle of democracy - rule by the people - is that all of the people must have the equal protection of a free and democratic election process."

The judge did not grant the restraining order, and the debate aired as scheduled, but Smith says he will pursue the lawsuit. He also says he tried to enter the KLRN building on Friday night, but was barred at the door by a sheriff's deputy working security and checking the guest list.

"There was an RSVP guest list to get into the studio; he didn't have a ticket," says Charles Vaughan, vice president of programming for KLRN. Vaughan also says this was not the first time KLRN has participated in a "selective format" involving City Council candidates.

"There's a legal precedent when another entity sponsors a candidate event such as the Friday mayoral forum," says Vaughan. "We broadcast coverage of the event. It falls under the heading of coverage of a live news event, and it is not constrained by equal time ... there have been questions about it before, and we have reviewed the legal precedent several times over the years."

It's public television, but it's not for everyone.

By Michael Cary


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