First came Washington County Watchdog, a Facebook page devoted to a critical review of local government budgets. Now there's Washington County Watchdog Debunked, created to bite back.
Matt Behning started the original Watchdog page in February 2013 to inspect spending decisions.
"All too often all we hear about how our tax dollars are being spent is the one-sided opinion of our elected leaders who authored it and the people who benefit from it," Behning said recently. "Who's the voice of the people who are paying for it?"
Behning became that voice, putting Watchdog on the trail of county government decisions on transit, taxes, public buildings and other budget matters. Along the way, he accumulated nearly 800 followers on his page.
As Watchdog expanded its surveillance to city governments in Washington County — and became more outspoken on matters of county finance — it drew howls from critics. They said Watchdog was frequently wrong in its interpretations of spending, took a simplistic view of government services, and had begun making slanderous personal attacks.
Gary Kriesel, a county commissioner, began commenting on Debunked when he thought the Watchdog's bark had taken a threatening tone toward county employees. He said he wanted to correct persistent factual errors and lack of context on Behning's page.
"Where he's crossed the line with me is attacking county staff," Kriesel said. "He's accusing them of intentionally lying. It's all bogus and unfounded. He can say anything he wants, but lay off the staff. If he wants to attack me or any other elected official, that's fair enough."
Two business owners who use assumed names started Debunked on Nov. 30 after they were banned from Watchdog. They haven't publicly identified themselves to guard against personal attacks, they have said. But that anonymity rankles Behning. Behning said Debunked isn't credible because of its "faceless" posts.
Of Behning, Kriesel said: "He's always trying to portray an issue as a conspiracy or something evil. Comments that challenge him all of a sudden get deleted."
In response, Behning denied deleting posts from Watchdog that criticize the accuracy of his statements.
For now, the conflict has all the elements of a dogfight.
"Everybody likes a watchdog," Kriesel said. "I have a watchdog at home, but you don't have to bark at every car that goes by."