Review: CNN’s Inside Man takes a superficial look at Stockton’s bankruptcy

In Opinion on August 13, 2013 at 7:00 am
Morgan Spurlock tries on the uniform of the Stockton chapter of the Guardian Angels on CNN's Inside Man via CNN

Morgan Spurlock tries on the uniform of the Stockton chapter of the Guardian Angels on CNN’s Inside Man via CNN

When word broke that Morgan Spurlock was going to do an episode of his new CNN show Inside Man on Stockton’s bankruptcy saga it’s safe to say everyone kind of freaked out. It was a somewhat appropriate reaction since financial problems rarely bring the best out in people, let alone an entire city, and there was a good chance that whatever Spurlock discovered in his time here wouldn’t exactly paint the town in a positive light. It shouldn’t be painted any other way obviously, but when you have to live with the screw ups of the past every single day you don’t exactly get excited when some outsider comes in to poke at the open, festering wound.

I’d been a fan of Spurlock’s for a while (30 Days was a vastly underrated series) and was looking forward to watching him wade through all of the interested parties and dig down deep into what caused the problems that have essentially defined Stockton for the past decade. While he did a great job of side stepping the sideshows that cropped up during his visit, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed after the hour-long show finally aired on Sunday.Part of the problem is that we’ve heard everything presented before. If you’ve been paying attention then Inside Man didn’t really tell you anything you didn’t already know unless you were blissfully unaware that the Guardian Angels were a thing. What frustrated me was how incomplete of a story was told. Spurlock and his crew tried their best to present a balanced story on what happened and what we’re doing to fix it, but it was all pretty light on details. Instead of diving deeper into Ann Johnston’s payroll claims, the SPOA’s claims that Downtown Stockton was built on their retirement plans, or why acts on  the level Cirque du Soleil come so infrequently he wasted time busting crackheads with code enforcement officers and trying out berets and ninja moves with the Guardian Angels. I’m all for goofy hats and if someone doesn’t greenlight a reality show of Stockton code enforcers kicking squatters out of garages they’re leaving money on the table, but the amount of times they got close to digging deep into the issues that are at the root of this crisis only to decide to go get some footage of Spurlock riding a fire truck made the documentary more frustrating than informative.

The interview subjects were a big problem. Everyone was presented in generally positive light, but both sides have lobbing bombs at each other for so long that they just seemed to be going through the motions. No one is ever going to accuse former Mayor Ann Johnston of being a great public speaker, but watching her drive Spurlock down Pacific Ave while trying to remember what damning statistic she was supposed to be giving didn’t do her any favors. The main thrust of her discussion with Spurlock was that police and fire unions leveraged Stockton’s boom period into lucrative contracts that weren’t sustainable anymore. She conveniently left out the part where the city probably should have invested in a pension fund, but the Stockton Police Officer’s Association VP Bill Hutto filled in that gap. He then followed that up with the popular SPOA talking point that the City of Stockton spent money that could have gone towards funding their retirement plans on downtown redevelopment. I’m still not sure how money specifically earmarked for economic redevelopment can fund pensions, but neither is Spurlock since his crew didn’t seem to really research that claim or it’s veracity. They also kind of ignored the fact that downtown redevelopment was meant to generate tax revenue that would have helped fund those pensions when we ran out of space to build houses.

While the housing market collapse was given some attention as the ominous reason for budget shortfall and the resulting reaction, they also failed to address how poorly Stockton acted during the boom. Weston Ranch received a lot of attention because of how it was affected once budget cuts eliminated their substation, but no one mentioned that maybe building multiple subdivisions on the outskirts of town so close together could spread a police force out pretty thinly. Sprawl’s contribution to Stockton’s crime problem may not be on equal footing with budget cuts, but it deserves a place in the conversation.

Despite my qualms with the show one thing was clear, the worries of the various interest groups in Stockton never came to fruition. He didn’t declare Stockton some sort of festering hole that will never recover from chasing the real estate tax revenue dragon (spoiler alert I guess). He correctly concluded that they only way Stockton is going to get out of this mess is if its citizens work together to pick up the slack. It’s an obvious conclusion to come to and his documentary crew barely scratched the surface of the problem but it’s the right solution. Even if it means dealing with the red berets of justice.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: