Over the past few days, we’ve watched as Cecil’s newest blogger, Delegate Michael Smigiel, published a series of serious allegations about improprieties at the Cecil County SPCA. As we understand the situation, the complaints have been out there for months, perhaps longer, but only a small circle of people was aware of the reported problems. At some point back in October a Baltimore television station, WBAL, involved one of its reporters, John Sherman, in the complaints since there is a site in the blogosphere, “Sherman Sham,” questioning that broadcaster’s coverage, but the piece never aired. Nor did it move with any other print or broadcast media outlet and given what we’ve seen so far we are sure people were trying to get ink.
But once the SPCA allegations shot into the blogosphere six days ago, the news spread rapidly and wasn’t going to be contained by anyone for any reason (political pressure, worry about advertisers, a failure to do reporting, etc.). Other bloggers such as the influential and widely read Salisbury News, as well as email discussion lists and bulletin boards picked up the beat as always happens on hot pieces on the Net. Although mainstream media hadn’t touched it, thousands of visitors a day were jumping on the web, many enlarging it and some inflaming the complaints. Finally around 5:00 p.m. Friday, after all the buzz had been going on for practically the entire work week, the Cecil Whig published a web piece, after it was old news on social networking sites, other blogs, Craig’s List, and participative citizen journalism digital pages of major media throughout the larger region.
We are disturbed by the talk we are hearing around town and what we are reading on the Net, but we are also very familiar with the power of web-logs for stirring things up. These are serious allegations and what is needed now is for an independent, believable investigation to determine what happened at the SPCA. The allegations are considerable and now that the situation has been allowed to escalate to crisis-like proportions, the only thing that will resolve it is an independent review, which lets the public know what corrective actions, if any, are needed. If the charges are unwarranted (don’t forget they could be) and people’s names need to be cleared we certainly need to know that from highly trusted independent sources now. Or if corrective measures are needed to ensure the appropriate environment of care for the animals that needs to happen without delay as well, for this could also be the case as we look at the volume of complaints from many different individuals, many of them willing to sign legal affidavits. The bottom line here is none of us will know the concluding facts based on what we’re able to read on the Internet for there is no vetting by an unconnected authority. Perhaps in addition to whatever criminal review occurs through the Attorney General’s Office, it is time to have the National Humane Society or National SPCA come in and do a best practices examination of the quality of the animal care.
One thing coming out of this is that there is now so much political pressure and awareness of the subject, everyone is now finally calling for the independent investigation. We find it remarkable that it takes this kind of buzz and noise from the Net to make these actions come about for absolutely all stakeholders, including employees, board-members, supporters, the taxpayers, and the animals. Long before this issue was provoking such emotions someone should have been out in front with the need for clear, logical fact-finding and an investigation should have been ordered. The regular media has a role in sharing stories when serious complaints are lodged too for that is how we once kept the public informed as some reporting occurred. It can be as simple as asking both sides to respond but that perhaps is too much of a stretch to think about right now on this dark January night.