I Forgot Lesson Number One

The cardinal rule of a community organizer is never take on a task that can be done by your organization’s members. If you are serious about building an organization, the leaders of organizations need to continually step forward and take responsibility for its activities.

I forgot this lesson when I gave an interview to a Post-Standard reporter. I didn’t think of it as such, to me it was a wide ranging discussion on the phone about development issues on the South Side and the relative merits of various schemes to develop businesses and plan for future growth in the area. If you’ve read this blog, you’ll know I love talking about local issues and the arcana that piles up around the intersection where government, business and non-profit agencies meet. I bloviated awhile on a number of topics near and dear to my heart. I forgot that when you talk to reporters, stories are usually the result.

When the article came out I’m featured with a couple of non-quotes summarizing my feelings:

Phil Prehn, senior organizer for Syracuse United Neighbors, is critical of the Urban Design Center plan. Its focus on commercial and mixed commercial and residential development is wrong for the neighborhood because its identity is residential, Prehn said. Residents are telling SUN that the South Side needs better single-family housing, not the kind of mixed-use development proposed in the plan, he said.

Even though the comments aren’t exact quotes, I’m sure that they are accurate. It sounds like me. It’s only part of what I said, but its accurate. My qualms aren’t with the reporter, she did her job professionally. Why did I open my big yap? I don’t live on the South Side. I work for people who do live on the South Side. It’s my job to prepare those folks to be in a position to make the comments. Oh well, it’s only one story, something else will come along tomorrow and all will be forgotten, right?

Well, it got worse today. The lead editorial picks up on this story and writes about the importance of this particular development scheme. No argument there, we have to get serious about South Side development. Then I come across this statement:

“Syracuse United Neighbors has criticized the Gateway plan, which was developed by Urban Design Inc. SUN says neighbors prefer single-family housing rather than commercial development.”

So, my comments have gone from ill-considered bullshitting on the phone to official position statement by my organization. The editorial folks didn’t do anything wrong either. Why shouldn’t they expect the comments made by an organization to their reporter reflect the opinion of the organization?

Well, at least I know what the topic will be at the next public meeting of SUN’s Southside Coalition.


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