It can happen without even thinking about it
I have been a journalist for over 32 years, between the last 25 years here in Webster and previously in Minnesota. That goes without mentioning my education and on the job training at South Dakota State University.
While I started out at SDSU under a different major, I switched to journalism. I came from a larger city in Wisconsin and graduated from one of three high schools in that community. Shortly after graduation from State we moved to Minnesota where I started out in sales at a small weekly and moved on to covering some news.
There is a love and a hate I have for small towns like ours. The love is if someone needs help the community is there. That’s what makes it a great place. But there are certain people in every town that will turn on a dime if they perceive something you have done or didn’t do. The problem is in a small town you know them.
Those in any small business know you have multiple jobs and small town business owners know there is more than the business they are trying to keep growing. There is the work in the community, working along side others in trying to make the place they live in a little better.
I have always tried to be part of that. Some of the professional organizations I belong to strongly suggest not being involved. There may be a conflict of interest. I agree with that to a small extent, but I feel I have tried to be fair in coverage of our county.
You cover meetings, sporting events, celebrations and the list goes on. You not only cover the good, but the bad or ugly to let the residents know and be informed.
Being on committees or boards you sometimes overlap, especially in a small town. Sometimes those boards work with elected officials to be on track with their projects at making the community a better place. Board members are at ballgames or out socializing at night. They have a life just like you and I and don’t talk shop 24-7.
It is because of this we sometimes forget. This past week such was the case. The WALT (Webster Active Living Trail) board I was on met and some Webster council members were present. No motions were made. The committee wanted to inform them where they were and ask their guidance about what they should do next. And after the meeting I talked with one of them about something else.
It was not until later that evening I realized there was a quorum. I corresponded with Mayor Mike Grosek on the issue who may not even had realized it. I cannot recall if any of the council members said a word. But Grosek did admit it should never have happened and he should have asked a member to leave so there was not a quorum.
Sometimes when people try to do what is best for the community they need to remember not to leave the community in the dark.
One is to let the public know there was an illegal meeting of the council even though there were no motions or actions and very little discussion by council members, there was a quorum. Some had not even said a word and one council member left midway through the meeting for a ballgame. Second, my view on this is because WALT funds are run through the city. Another is the city did not request the meeting with WALT but WALT requested it and sent it out to the entire council.
No matter what the case, it was a learning experience for both me and the council.
I did not want this to be pushed under the rug. I believe the readers and residents need to know that an illegal meeting occurred. Direction was given where WALT is headed with the trail project but no action was taken. And if it does happen again, I will let the public know.
But after all this there are a couple things I do know; the mayors and people who are elected to public office in small towns do a lot. The other thing is if you want your community to grow or not decline, you need to be involved.
Just to let boards know I will report if something is out of line and let people know. While this was a first to me in 32 years do not let this stop you from helping out your community, just be open about it.
Without newspapers, everyone pays more
They say what you don’t know won’t hurt you.
I beg to differ.
There’s a new study which explores the economic impact of a newspaper’s absence in a community and examines how the citizens of such communities may be inadvertently allowing their government to more freely dip into their pocketbooks.
The basis of the study, which looked at communities with decline in newspaper coverage between 1996-2015, is that without newspapers elected officials may be tempted to take more liberties when they know there is no watchdog holding them accountable.
Co-authors Pengjie Gao, Chang Lee and Dermot Murphy estimate that borrowing costs in cities that experience the closure of a newspaper increase by about 10 basis points, a finding they say can’t be attributed to any other economic factor. According to their calculations, that’s an average of $650,000 per average bond issued. Lack of local news coverage also leads to lower voter turnouts and less informed citizens overall.
“Eventually, the taxpayers are going to pay for this, and they may be ill-informed or totally unaware of what they’re paying for,” Gao said in one interview. “Without public scrutiny, the behavior of local governments is to kick the rock down the road, putting off the liability for the long term, forcing taxpayers to pay a lot more in the future.”
Please hear me when I say that the point of this column is not to bash public officials. I by no means think every individual who runs for public office is corrupt or has a personal agenda. Our public officers often fill a thankless but critical role in our society.
I also know power can incite temptation, therefore, government officials could think of us as temptation blockers.
I’ve heard it said that one key indicator of a good newspaper is how well it covers public meetings and holds elected officials accountable for the decisions they’re making while acting in an official capacity. That job isn’t always easy with low staff numbers and when some branches of government don’t follow the rules (such as the Potter County Commissioners who were cited earlier this month for violating Open Meeting Laws). And it’s not cheap.
Of course, I’m preaching to the choir now. You, as a loyal reader, play a key role in this whole thing. What we do is public good and worth providing and we couldn’t do it without the support of subscribers and advertisers.
In the long run, it might cost more to lose this paper than it would to subscribe.
My first R&F column, an intro
Though new to Webster, I’m not to South Dakota. I lived here for just over a year starting at the end of 2014 when I moved to Britton at my cousin’s invitation after losing my wife. From Britton, I took a position working with tribal school districts and moved to Kimbal.
My cousin had a back pocket farm near Britton and I started farm hand training to include - and this was my favorite - operating the tractor to move hay bales for his “herd” of about eight cattle. Born and raised in Baltimore City, I hadn’t spent much time on the farm.
I quickly learned that cows become visibly annoyed when their hay is low. I arrived early one very cold morning to find every one congregated at the end of the corral staring at me. I apologized and started up the tractor.
Sports will be one principal beat along with the School Board, City Council, Business of the Month... and whatever else John assigns. As an old high school and college athlete, I look forward to covering and getting to know local amateur and scholastic sports. This evening, in fact, will be my first Post 40 game.
I lettered in swimming and lacrosse with swimming my primary year round activity for about six years. I also played a lot of city playground and pick up basketball but will leave that for later.
I swam for three years in high school, two plus in college and on a couple different amateur teams. One of my “claims to fame” as a swimmer was my couple years swimming with the North Baltimore Aquatics Club to include moving up to the senior group with its twice a day, seven day a week practices. And Coach didn’t much like us missing even a single practice.
Swimmers and swim fans might recognize NBAC as the team which created Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff among other swimming stars. Though I can’t say I knew Michael or Katy since I swam for NBAC - well - before either was born, a couple of my coaches were still there when Phelps and Hoff started their own unique journies.
I look forward to writing for the R&F and being a part of Webster and the community. Since great ideas and stories are everywhere, please feel free to visit with or email me anytime.
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