That's all I can say upon hearing the news that Stephanie Ramage, ex-columnist for the now-defunct Sunday Paper and Mayor Kasim Reed's most vocal detractor of recent months, has joined the City Hall payroll. Her job? The title is "Citizens Advocate" and I'll let her describe her duties, via her previously mayor-bashing blog:
Every city department has a resolution process in place in terms of customer service or professional standards. In those cases where problems have proven resistant to the city’s traditional channels of resolution, it will be my job to investigate what went wrong, identify those policies, procedures or personnel that have proven to be roadblocks to resolution, and present a report of my findings to the administration.
Fair enough. News reporters often are called upon to analyze government processes and explain where and how they failed, so I can see how one might argue that Ramage is qualified for such a role. But, even if it was decided that the best fit for this new position would be a reporter, why pick the one who called the mayor a "classic tax-and-spend liberal," frequently blasted his "outrageously inept policies" and accused Reed of "squeez[ing] money out of his residents and businesses to meet the expenses he sets?"
It's enough to make you wonder if Ramage's hiring was an effort to shut her up. Which is ironic, because she wondered something similar — publicly, of course — in February, after one of her own readers supposedly warned that people would dismiss her as a crank if she didn't ease up on the mayor.
Responding through a blog post, she rejected the advice, promised to continue to fight the power and offered this self-righteous coda:
But to those whose ill-disguised purpose is to intimidate me into silence or discourage me into accommodation, I will say this: I went through hell long before you ever knew my name and what it taught me was that in the end all I have is myself, however imperfect I may be. If I sell out who I am, then I will have nothing no matter how big a price I bring. And what would be my worth to anyone then?
Clearly aware that taking a job at City Hall might earn her accusations of selling out, Ramage has since polished up her about-face. Again, from today's blog post:
I think that it would be very disingenuous of me not to take the job. After all, what kind of person would I be if I continue to offer criticism of the city, but I am not willing to do what I can to help solve its problems when given a perfect opportunity to do so?
Well spun, madam.
OK, I understand why the out-of-work Ramage would want a city paycheck. What I don't get is why, with all the underemployed investigative reporters out there pounding the ATL pavement, Reed hires the one who seemed to hate his guts. (That's after she endorsed him for mayor, of course. I know — it gets confusing.)
So I asked him. I have yet to get him on the phone, but through text messages he explains that "it's a real job and she can do it" and adds that he has a thick skin where criticism is concerned. He also dismisses the suggestion that he's buying Ramage off with a job — "That's not true at all," he says — implying that even such a highly critical blogger isn't capable of doing enough PR damage to require such defensive action (my wording, not his).
From the official city press release:
Mayor Reed invited Ramage to work on behalf of taxpayers in a manner that will have a more tangible impact on their lives than in her role as an investigative reporter and columnist.
“Stephanie Ramage’s track record as a reporter shows that she says what she thinks and she’s not afraid to critique anyone,” Mayor Reed said. “As Citizen Advocate, I am certain she will work tirelessly on behalf of our residents and business owners and help make the city address problems in a manner that leads to better, faster and more efficient service.”
I agree it doesn't make much sense that Reed would feel the need to co-opt Ramage now, when she no longer has the pulpit of a weekly print column from which to bash him. But I still think the whole business is mighty curious.
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