Saturday, October 21, 2006

I feel like a real journalist.

For the first time in my career, I stood up to a government body that appeared to be doing public business in private. The particulars aren't that interesting, to be honest. The local Emergency Management office and 911 center are operated jointly by the city and county. Someone from the county noticed an oversight had been causing the county to pay too much over the years, so they wanted a refund from the city.

Well, they went behind closed doors in the county commission meeting to discuss what the agenda called "budget issues."

State law gives public bodies a handful of reasons they can use to meet in closed session. But "budget issues" don't count.

A reporter from the local newspaper stood up and made an objection in the meeting. I was dumbfounded by it all. It caught me off guard. So I went back to the office and drafted a complaint letter with my boss and fired it off to them.

If you're dealing with taxpayer dollars, you need to do it in public, where taxpayers can hold you accountable. At least that was our position.

I cc'd the email to the newspaper, and the reporter included our comments in her story. That was pretty cool.

The press is known as the "fourth estate," an important institution that needs to act on the public's behalf. And this week I feel like we did that. Instead of just taking the easy story that's spoonfed to me by some PR firm, I took a stand to uncover something less sexy, but still important. We have to do that on occasion. Even if our viewers or readers don't care, someone has to do it.

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