It seemed like the kind of softball question any new mayor elect would love to get.
Basically, how does it feel to be the city’s next mayor?
Any mayor elect, that is, except Fleeta Baggett.
Instead of providing an answer indicating she understood the gravity of the moment — something along the lines of congratulating her opponents on a hard-fought race, thanking her supporters for the victory and calling for unity following the election to move the city forward — Ms. Baggett decided instead to go on a diatribe about The Covington News and her decision not to work with us now or in the future.
You might be thinking to yourself, huh?
Yeah, I don’t get it either.
In an email the day after the election, Ms. Baggett chose to let the newspaper know, in no uncertain terms, that she did not intend to provide comments to the paper and that if we wanted information on behalf of our readers, her constituents, about city government or her administration we could get it from the city’s PR department, whatever that is, because it wasn’t coming from her.
In that initial response and other emails since Ms. Baggett accuses the newspaper of helping another candidate in the mayor’s race “personally slander” her by publishing his opinion piece and political advertising, as well as, costing city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal fees due to litigation caused by the newspaper’s alleged constant mishandling of city legal advertising.
Oh, and nobody reads the newspaper anyway. Almost forgot about that one.
None of this is true, of course. She was never slandered, which in print it’s libeled, but I digress. The city isn’t involved in litigation nor has litigation pending as a result of how we have handled the city’s legal advertising, according to the city attorney, and The Covington News has more reach now than it ever has.
In fact, we go into 3,200 homes twice a week with our print edition, we have more than 32,000 likes or follows on our Facebook page and we average over 430,000 — yes, 430,000 — page views a month on our website. Again, with all of the platforms at our disposal, nobody can match that kind of reach in our market, and it’s not even close.
But hey, no reason to let the facts get in the way of a good story.
We’ve published the email correspondences between the newspaper and Ms. Baggett in today’s opinion section so each of you, our readers, can see in greater detail the exchange and decide for yourselves if any of this seems reasonable behavior by the individual elected to lead this city moving forward. We trust your judgment.
It’s also important to note Ms. Baggett was given the opportunity to write an opinion piece in defense of her position and never responded to that invitation.
It has been the newspaper’s job to cover the mayor and City Hall on your behalf since right around the end of the Civil War. Working with all of the city’s mayors and other elected officials since 1865 to keep our readers, who are their constituents, informed about their city government and their community.
We’re going to continue to do our job, which is to ask the soon-to-be mayor questions on behalf of our readers. We’ll have to see if she will do her job, which is to answer them on behalf of her constituents.
Patrick Graham is the proprietor and publisher of The Covington News. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Below is a documentation of exchanges between The Covington News and Mayor elect Fleeta Baggett during the month of November.
From Evan Newton, News Editor | To: Fleeta Baggett. Nov. 8, 2023 at 10:23 a.m.
My name is Evan Newton and I am the News Editor at The Covington News.
Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you on your victory as mayor of Covington in yesterday’s election. We will be running a story this week on your election win and was hoping to a comment from you regarding the race. We feel that this would be great in informing the citizens in the best way possible.
If this is possible please call me at 770-728-1401 or reply back to this email.
From Fleeta Baggett | To: Evan Newton, News Editor. Nov. 9, 2023 at 7:37 a.m.
You allowed a candidate to write into your “opinion” column and personally slander me. Ran his printed ads without so much as fact checking. You chose to publish my answers to your questions in your Wednesday paper first round. As if all that other wasn’t unprofessional enough, you didn’t even bother to print the answers to all my questions that YOU asked.
I have been involved in politics my entire life. From the current Governor down and everything in between. I’m thick skinned. I didn’t take it personal, I was just irritated. What few older constituents do read your paper, take it as factual when it is not. I want no part of that.
So No, there will no comment from me to you or an anything your paper ask me until further notice or maybe not ever over the next four years. You will be getting official City Responses from our PR representative when necessary but absolutely nothing personal out of me.
If want to help this City, get your legals straightened out. You have cost the City taxpayers thousands in Legal fees with careless mistakes. Not to mention getting us tossed into litigation more than once because of this continued sloppiness.
Fleeta S Baggett
City of Covington
Following this exchange, The Covington News then informed readers in the Nov. 11-12 edition that Baggett ‘declined to comment.’ Baggett then shared an image of the article on her facebook page, detailing her intentions not to provide comments to The News.
"After all the garbage The Covington News ran, you bet I declined and will continue to do so. The only Comments regarding me or the City will come from our Public Relations spokesperson. Nothing from me. And to Quote Mrs. Mallard... A Good Time Was Had By All," per a Facebook post from Fleeta Baggett's official Facebook page.
Following Baggett's email response and Facebook post, proprietor & publisher of The Covington News, Patrick graham, responded to Baggett.
From: Patrick Graham, Proprietor & Publisher | To: Fleeta Baggett. Nov. 16, 2023 at 11:07 a.m.
Good morning, Ms. Baggett,
I apologize for my delayed response to the below email and subsequent Facebook post. While I have been aware of them for some time I am just now getting the opportunity to respond. Again my apologies.
My name is Patrick Graham and I am the proprietor and publisher of The Covington News. I’d like to start by congratulating you on your win in the hard-fought mayor’s race in Covington. Garnering over half of the more than 1,600 votes in a five-way race for mayor is impressive. Congratulations again.
I’d like to respond to your comments below, point by point, but would like to also let you know I’d be happy to discuss this matter by phone or in person at your convenience.
Here we go:
• Yes, all the candidates had the opportunity to run campaign advertising and/or opinion pieces in the newspaper. The opponent you cite, Felton Hudson, took advantage of that opportunity. By his own admission Mr. Hudson was a one-issue candidate, the impact of the tiny home project on the Correydell neighborhood, and in the opinion piece you cite he named the council members who voted for the project and gave his opinion on how he believed it would effect Correydell residents. Which he has the right to do. You also have the right to disagree with his opinion. There was nothing slanderous in his opinion piece or his advertising. If there had been, we wouldn’t have run it. But if you really believe that, I would encourage you to retain an attorney and sue both the newspaper and Mr. Hudson. I won’t speak for Mr. Hudson, but I look forward to the opportunity to defend the newspaper’s name and reputation in court. It’s also worth noting here that you had the ability and opportunity to respond to Mr. Hudson in like space and manner, and you chose not to.
• Actually, this all feels personal. Your comments below indicate you intend to use your public office for a personal vendetta against the newspaper resulting from campaign coverage you deem unfair. Your email response is your first interaction with the newspaper as mayor elect. Why would a thick-skinned, seasoned politician as you purport to be take this approach otherwise? You’ve just been elected by a majority of the voters to be the mayor, and our readers and this community are now your constituents. Some voted for you, many didn’t. We are going to tell all of them about how you are performing in your new office. It’s our job to ask you questions. It’s your job to answer them, particularly on matters of your administration’s policy. We’re not going to the public information officer for that information nor should we.
• I’d appreciate it if you could give me specific examples (since September 2017 when I bought the paper) of when the newspaper cost the city taxpayers thousands of dollars or got the city tossed into litigation as a result of the mishandling of the city’s legal advertising. I can’t find any, and my staff denies this has ever happened. If that’s not accurate and there have been problems, I need to know that so that I can investigate and make sure we put processes in place to keep it from every happening again.
In conclusion, I’d like to reiterate that I am open to discussing any or all of this with you at any time. I’d also add that the newspaper would like to have a mutually-beneficial working relationship with the mayor’s office. Not talking to the paper doesn’t stop the story from being told, it just stops your side of it from being told. That’s not good for you or for your constituents, our readers, who are going to want to hear from you.
Congratulations again and best of luck in your new office.
Proprietor and Publisher
The Covington News
From: Fleeta Baggett | To: Patrick Graham, Proprietor & Publisher. Nov. 16, 2023 at 10:40 p.m.
Thank you for your response and the congratulations.
I chose not to engage Mr Hudson. He has been involved in the murder trial of his only child while we campaigned. The murderer was sentenced on November the second. He is a very angry, hurt and grieving man. At the very least he deserves grace.
Your circulation and demographics did not reach enough voters for me to use my campaign finances by advertising in the paper.
No sir, no vendetta at all. I just have nothing to say.
Frank Turner Jr can go over exactly what problems we have had. He is dealing with the current zoning law suits. As I’m sure you are aware, he is the city attorney.
As far as suing. My personal attorney is always on retainer. Actually, I went against his advice by responding to your email. Honestly, I’ll continue to take his other guidance though, which is to by pass your paper from any personal responses.
Fleeta S Baggett
The City of Covington
From: Patrick Graham, Proprietor & Publisher | To: Fleeta Baggett. Nov. 29, 2023 at 10:22 a.m.
Good morning, Ms. Baggett,
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving and will have an even better Christmas.
Just wanted to followup to let you know our staff has consulted with the Covington city attorney, Frank Turner Jr., as per your recommendation and he has confirmed for us that there is no current litigation or pending litigation against the city as a result of our “continuous mishandling” of the city’s legals. As you asserted. In fact, he can only think of one instance were there has been an issue with the city’s legals, and that was in the Fall 2022 resulting in a delay in the citywide rezoning that year. But no litigation.
As for your other points below, I’m going to respond to them in a column I intend to write for this weekend’s paper regarding your interaction with the paper since becoming mayor elect. If you would like to write a column further clarifying your statements and position I’d be glad to publish it this weekend with mine. We’d just need your submission by the end of the business day Thursday.
I also intend to publish your email correspondences with the paper this weekend so that the readers can have as much information as possible as they try to determine whether or not your comments and position regarding the paper are reasonable.
I have faith in the good people of Covington’s judgment.
Proprietor and Publisher
The Covington News