Leader Too Quick to Pat Own Back

19 Aug

In the August 9 Leader, Pat Martin wrote a column about how the much-maligned press saves taxpayers money, according to researchers. He then proceeded to pat the paper’s figurative back with a bold “you’re welcome.” But both generally and in the specific example cited in the study, I don’t think the paper is owed many thank-you cards.

I believe in the general result of the study, which says that local news outlets are needed to keep an eye on elected officials and let them know that they can’t get away with shenanigans. I am reminded of this paragraph from Pat Gauen in the Post-Dispatch:

When I started as a reporter at the old Collinsville Herald, many Metro East communities had local newspapers. Some of the best, like mine, held government accountable at the grass-roots level. My investigations included a questionable city bond issue, slacking street repair crews, deficiencies in the fire department, and Medicaid fraud at a local pharmacy.

The specific issue cited in the study was negotiated bond sales by local governmental entities, which cost the taxpayers more in interest than sales that are put up for a bid. However, as I wrote in 2013, all of the school districts in JeffCo were using negotiated bond sales, according to a state auditor’s report. So in this instance, having a local paper did not save taxpayers any money on bond issues.

In fact, it was local state representative and current House majority leader Rob Vescovo who put an end to this practice by passing legislation (as part of SB 111) in 2017 requiring cities and school districts to use competitive bidding on bond issues. So in this instance he is the one who deserves some thanks for saving us money.

Another item Martin mentions from the study is that areas without newspapers have higher government wages, the theory being that administrators will raise their pay if nobody is there to alert the public. But we had a newspaper when Dianne Critchlow was raking in $260,000 per year as head of the Fox school district, so it clearly didn’t harm her earning potential. I think the whole Critchlow scandal offers an example of the Leader showing up after the fact, after the whistle has already been blown, rather than doing any investigating that uncovered wrongdoing. And even when they did show up, the paper refused to ask hard questions about the Critchlow regime, instead printing puff pieces on departing assistant superintendents.

Another example of lax oversight, I think, is in the case of county executive Ken Waller. I have compared him several times to St. Louis County executive Steve Stenger, whose unethical, combative, vindictive behavior is covered extensively by the St. Louis media. If the big city media had more interest in JeffCo (they used to have a JeffCo beat writer at the Post-Dispatch; another casualty of declining revenues, I guess), I think Waller would receive a lot more negative press. But the Leader usually just writes down what he says. In a column purporting to trace the genesis of the Waller-council feud, the paper even forgot about the politician pay raise lawsuit, which is really where the relationship blew up. On the editorial side of things, the paper even endorsed Waller in his race for county clerk (will they do so in November, though?). As for the pay lawsuit, it has been Elliott Davis from Fox 2 who is putting the pressure on participating politicians. Occasionally, local issues do rise up enough to meet the interest of the STL media, fortunately.

In short, I appreciate the need for a local watchdog media, but I don’t think we have it here. I try to do what I can, but I am just one guy who does this on the side (though I appreciate your tips, and I have found that exposing wrongdoing begets even more tips). The Leader employs several reporters to do this work and has a much larger audience. One reporter, Nate Anton, did some great work uncovering Margie Sammons’ misconduct at Rock Ambulance (which I relied upon here), leading to her forced departure, but he was subsequently sent packing by the paper. When the Leader starts uncovering wrongdoing, rather than reacting to it, I will be first in line to offer pats on the back.

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2 Responses to “Leader Too Quick to Pat Own Back”

  1. Frustrated Taxpayer August 20, 2018 at 8:48 am #

    The reporting by The Leader on County Collector Beth Mahn’s hire of Tony Dorsett to fill a long vacant position at nearly double the cost was also a joke! I know you have covered this on your site, but it is worth repeating in this post.

    Perhaps that explains why the council amended the budget to cut salaries for his office. He must not have had enough to do in his County Counselor position if he had time to help out the Collector’s office.

    So many questions were raised by this hire, but as usual, The Leader left readers hanging. Their inadequate coverage shows others in government that they have little to fear from the local press.

    I bet Mahn will be endorsed by the paper for the November election, citing her experience over her opponent. Never mind the questionable hiring of Dorsett nor that Mahn, I believe, had indicated after her last election that she would not run again.

    I am also tired of The Leader acting like it was so noble of Waller to appoint Randy Holman to County Clerk. Waller probably figured he beat Holman in the race for County Executive years ago and that he will be able to do so again in the race for County Clerk.

    I hope both Mahn and Waller are defeated in November. Waller really should have been sent packing in the primary.

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  2. Georgee Thompson August 20, 2018 at 9:25 am #

    My parakeet loves the Leader. It’s also good for paper training puppies or cleaning glass windows.

    Like

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