Hey, remember when Catherine Nelson was arrested for re-enacting that A-ha video with her car and various downtown Rutland fixtures? Two days before her promotion to Publisher of the Rutland Herald and Times Argus?
And remember outgoing publisher John Mitchell’s inadequate explanation of the whole thing?
Well, this week it got worse. She pleaded “no contest” to charges stemming from that incident. And in the process, we learned something strange and troubling about her taste in drinking buddies. Paul Heintz:
Nelson finally admitted that she had been drinking with a man named Henry Hance, a habitual offender who, according to the Herald, has been convicted of more than a dozen DUI and drug charges, along with assault, arson and grand larceny. An hour and a half after her own DUI, Nelson blew twice the legal limit.
I’m sure those who follow the news in Rutland are painfully aware of Mr. Hance. RutVegas is full of, shall we say, colorful types; but Hance has got to be in the Top Ten. His record of violent, criminal, drug-dealing behavior covers his entire adult life.
So why the freakin’ hell is the new Publisher of the Rutland newspaper — one of the city’s most prominent citizens — hanging around with one of the city’s worst citizens?
After the court proceeding, Mitchell offered a spoonful of pablum:
“Catherine has a long track record of service and leadership to the Rutland and Barre-Montpelier communities, and feels badly about this,” he tells Seven Days. “She is showing us all the kind of person she is by taking responsibility for her actions.”
Is she? Is she really?
Might I humbly suggest a further demonstration is in order? A formal, public apology on the largest possible stage? Full and frank responses to any and all questions from the media and the public? That, in my mind, would qualify as “taking responsibility.” This does not.
Even in this age of diminished newspapers, your local daily occupies a unique position. It is very much the face of a community. It sets the news agenda. It sucks up a lot of advertising revenue. It is one of the leading institutions in town. The Publisher is, simply by default, a prominent citizen.
In the words of Uncle Ned, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Newspapers are happy to accept this deal in good times; but although they expect transparency and accountability from everybody else, they duck and cover when bad news hits their own doorsteps.
Rutland and Barre are two of Vermont’s hotbeds of drug dealing and abuse. They suffer heavily from the criminal, social, and economic impact of rampant drug use. And here is their newspaper’s Publisher, getting drunk with a known drug dealer and chronic violent offender.
Their communities deserve a great deal more from Ms. Nelson and Mr. Mitchell.
Was this the first and only time Ms. Nelson went out on the town with Mr. Hance? Who else is in her little black book, pray tell? Is she really and truly fit to hold the position entrusted to her by the Mitchell family?
Her readers and her communities need to know.