This isnít the first time
I was reminded earlier this week about something that happened during my tenure as managing editor of the daily newspaper in Pine Bluff. I happened to run into that cityís mayor at a convenience store, and he did not speak to me.
That wasnít really surprising; he hadnít been taking my phone calls for several months at that point, after I called him to discuss his habit of trying to embarrass the talented and hardworking, but young and sometimes meek, reporter I had assigned to cover City Hall. Our conversation essentially ended when he told me to call him if I had a problem with him and I responded ďIím on the phone right now.Ē
Heíd had his nose out of joint for a while after we reported that he had instructed a city mechanic, on city time, to change the oil in his personal vehicle. An attorney friend of his responded by writing a letter to the editor critical of our coverage. His critique included the remark: ďThereís no such thing as a free lunch.Ē To which I responded in print: ďNo, but there is a free oil change, if youíre an elected official with a complete lack of ethics or an ounce of political common sense.Ē
Iím reminded of all this today because of a comment that a local official made to a member of our editorial staff who was asking questions about public business ó or at least business that ought to be public.
ďYíall havenít been too nice to (the subject of the question),Ē this official said.
To which our reporter replied: ďItís not my job to be nice. Itís my job to get to the truth.Ē
Gold star to that reporter.
Our responsibility is to tell the citizens of Carroll County whatís going on in their communities. A major part of that responsibility is keeping those same citizens informed about whatís happening within their government ó whether that be at the city or county level.
Sometimes, local government officials would prefer not to discuss certain issues in public despite the fact that the public has a right to know. When that happens, itís our job to ask questions that might not make us very popular. Itís our job, in fact, to use every legal means necessary to obtain public information. If that means filing a Freedom of Information Act request for the mayorís email, then thatís what weíll do. If it means asking the mayor questions that he clearly doesnít want to answer, then thatís what weíll do.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Iím not here to make friends. Iím here to make sure that this newspaper reports the news aggressively, objectively and accurately.
Thatís what weíve done for more than seven years, and thatís what weíll continue to do. No matter who doesnít like it.