An attorney for the Town of Winnsboro utilized the public pulpit Tuesday night to hurl criticism at a local reporter for a story that appeared last month in The Herald Independent.
John Fantry, Special Utility Legal Counsel for the Town of Winnsboro, prefaced his statements during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s Town Council meeting by telling citizens assembled at Town Hall that he was not speaking on behalf of the Town.
“These comments are my own opinions and I grant everyone the right to accept them or reject them,” Fantry said, before launching into a three-minute soliloquy.
“It has been said that today’s news story is tomorrow’s canary cage liner,” he said, “but some stories deserve a longer life. If I were an artist, I would paint a mural. If I were a state senator, I would ask for a personal proclamation before the Lt. Governor. If I was a mayor, I’d sign a proclamation. But I am none of those things. So, as a citizen of this town, I’ve come to memorialize my opinions about the stories that were in print.”
Fantry said he was referring specifically to two stories that appeared in the March 20 edition of The Herald Independent. For the first story, “H-I reporter earns top honor from SCPA,” Fantry congratulated Herald Independent reporter Jill Cincotta for her recent Montgomery Freedom of Information Award, which was bestowed upon her at the March 17 S.C. Press Association awards banquet.
“Miss Cincotta is passionate about the Freedom of Information Act and shedding the light of day on every entity in Fairfield County and every person that the News and Herald believes is not following the Freedom of Information Act,” Fantry said.
Referencing to the second story, “Town fails to notify water customers of restrictions,” Fantry’s kudos quickly turned to criticism, as he berated Cincotta and The Herald Independent for what he called a “pugilistic style of reporting.”
“To me, Miss Cincotta acted in a way Geraldo Rivera acted when he was talking about Al Capone’s vault,” Fantry said, “as he builds lots of suspense to shine public light on an empty room.”
Fantry claimed that an email quoted in the March 20 story about the Town’s failure to notify its customers of water restrictions only told half the story. He then read from the original email that was sent from Fantry to Town Manager Don Wood, which was in response to The Herald Independent’s request for information regarding the Town’s plans to publish the water restrictions in the local newspaper, as required by the Extreme Drought Ordinance, or notify its customers of the restrictions.
“Miss Cincotta heard Winnsboro’s official notification of my plan more than one time,” Fantry read, “and has forgotten what was said during more than two interviews or intentionally had a lapse of memory. I feel that The Herald Independent is being disingenuous at best in sending you this email.”
The March 20 story, however, was not dedicated to the Town’s plans for notification, but whether or not those plans had been carried out, as required by ordinance.
“The moral of my story, and it’s a sad moral, is that you can’t believe everything you read in the paper,” Fantry said.
When the March 20 story went to press, the Town had not notified, in writing, any of its customers of the water restrictions nor had it published in the local newspaper details of the ordinance or the restrictions. Since that time, notification has gone out to the Town’s largest consumers — Mid-County Water, the Town of Ridgeway and the Town of Blythewood — but no details of the ordinance have been placed in the newspaper. Utility bills sent to individual customers now include a note on the bill pointing out water restrictions, but detailed information, as required by ordinance, still has not been mailed out.
Reached for comment Thursday afternoon, Fantry defended his statements, saying he felt the public comment portion of the Council meeting was indeed an appropriate venue to air his opinion. Fantry also said he felt The Herald Independent’s Feb. 24 news story on the water restrictions satisfied the mandate of the ordinance to publish details of the restrictions in a newspaper of general circulation in the service area.