Editorial: Hansen’s departure is more complicated than some outlets say


PUNGO — Some news outlets falsely reported that the recent resignation of Virginia Beach City Manager Dave Hansen resulted from how the city has faced the mass shooting at the municipal center.

“Virginia Beach official resigns over mass shooting response,” USA Today proclaimed.

“Virginia Beach city manager resigns over mass shooting response,” The New York Post added.

“Virginia Beach city manager resigns after criticism from families of mass shooting victims,” Time shouted.

Hansen has strengths and flaws, but political change mixed with frayed relationships were main factors in how this all ended.

Some incorrect reports appear to be based upon an extremely limited reading by a wire service of The Virginian-Pilot’s more in-depth coverage.

Those reports are not accurate, especially in headlines, when they either suggest or assert the response to an unspeakable tragedy that directly wounded the government is what ended Hansen’s employment.

This is grossly unfair to Hansen, who faced overwhelmingly complex challenges in the wake of the tragedy. By many accounts, Hansen faced these specific challenges tirelessly and well. Mayor Bobby Dyer made the right decision to address the media on Friday, Aug. 30, to correct the record.

“It is untrue that his resignation was related to his handling of May 31,” Dyer said. “I’m not aware of any member of the City Council criticizing his performance in the aftermath of the tragedy or it being a factor in his resignation.”

Unfortunately, the mayor did not take questions from the journalists he invited to City Hall. The mayor, essentially, was in the position of speaking at the media, then past it to the public. This may make sense to some in Virginia Beach’s government, but it is part of an existing problem city leaders must consider when they determine what type of relationships they wish to have when our city resets its leadership.

Virginia Beach has been selective in its transparency.

Virginia Beach is welcome to criticize the media. However, Virginia Beach is entirely in control of the information related to the mass shooting. As the holder of this information, the city determines what it chooses to present to the media or how much of a vacuum the media will try to fill by using other sources of information. Our government has more discretion about what it chooses to withhold than its officials sometimes let on.

That is not to suggest all information should be released, and there is no defense for inaccurate journalism. This is meant to note that a city that promises transparency should consider whether it is really delivering it in the most meaningful, proactive ways. 

An example of this from Hansen’s tenure is when the city confirmed that the mass shooting gunman, who worked in public utilities, gave his two-week notice to the city on the morning before the violence at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. This did not directly contradict Hansen’s assertion that the individual had no ongoing discipline issues, but it certainly raised questions.

Hansen, during a press conference, confirmed this fact after a reporter asked. That means the city was reactive rather than proactive in providing information of obvious public interest. And the city, by its choice, redacted some information when it released the two-week notice email to the press.

It is understandable in the chaos closely following the tragedy for some information to come in drips and drabs, but this example does not suggest complete transparency. Neither does inviting the media to City Hall for a one-way conversation — though, to be fair, Andy Fox of WAVY-TV got a question in while the mayor headed out of the chamber. Fox is the kind of pit bull other pit bulls see and say, “Hey, get a load of that guy.”

The Independent News has tried in its coverage of a city we love to discuss the root causes of issues such as this without resorting to clickbait nonsense and social media-driven conspiracy theories. We are answerable when we fail.

The newspaper also has expressed concerns about constraints placed upon journalists following the shooting, including in correspondence that was forwarded to Hansen. He did not respond.

This newspaper’s reporting, to be clear, is consistent with Dyer’s remarks to the press about a terribly incorrect aspect of coverage by some outlets. Hansen has, at times, earned criticism, including from The Independent News, but the real reason he is no longer city manager is far more complex than a false narrative. Yet this is how some people outside our community now see our city.

© 2019 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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