Last Sunday's Joplin Globe featured an incredibly long investigative report on six dead voters who somehow cast ballots in recent elections in Jasper and McDonald counties. It was an interesting report, no doubt about it, but what was so interesting about it that it merited a large chunk of page one, as well as an entire page inside?
If there had been an epidemic of dead people voting (and you have to wonder based on the results of some elections), then yes, it would have been worth the space. In this case, there were only six, granted that is six too many, and in nearly every case there was a reasonable explanation of how that vote might have occurred. In one case, it was obvious that the deceased man's son, who has the same name, voted. In others, it was apparent that an election worker marked a name on the wrong line. No corruption was apparent. If it makes election officials decide to keep the actual ballots longer, then the space devoted to this investigation might be worth it. Otherwise, it appears to be much ado about nothing.
So why the considerable amount of space. It would appear the Globe spent a large amount of money to come up with these results, buying a database of voters for these elections, and felt it had to devote that much space to justify the cost. The Globe's editors spent money on a fishing expedition, probably inspired by some other paper which did the same thing and came up with considerably different results.
What the Globe came up with for its efforts was an interesting story. Nothing wrong with that, but there are other stories the Globe could be looking at (and hopefully are) that could make a real difference. Some of those have been addressed in The Turner Report.
A few weeks ago, The Turner Report featured an investigation on the gifts that 127th District State Representative Steve Hunter has been accepting from Ameristar Casinos.
First, I should mention that Rep. Hunter has received $2,852.86 worth of gifts from lobbyists, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission. Of that total, $1,832.68 came from lobbyists who list Ameristar Casinos as one of their clients. Hunter's total of gifts received from lobbyists is nearly three times as much as any other area legislator. The next highest total, according to Commission records, is the $973.32 received by Rep. Ron Richard. The $1,832.68 from casino lobbyists alone is nearly twice as much as Richard received from all lobbyists.
If you examine the records just of Rep. Hunter, you won't find the total that I gave above. You will wind up about $250 short. However, by examining the lobbyists' records, it turns out that Ameristar paid $250 to Hunter and an additional $250 to Hunter's wife, Jasper County Public Administrator candidate Rita Hunter, for "travel" purposes.
If you want a more detailed list of the gifts given to Rep. Hunter, check out the September Turner Report archives.
Though Hunter is not the only representative who has been the object of Ameristar's affections, he is the only one from this area. While examining the records, I saw some other representatives and senators who have received gifts time after time from Ameristar. Many of them have family members and staff members who have also received travel, entertainment, and meal and beverage gifts from the gambling giant.
I would love to see The Globe get one of its databases and spreadsheets and work out just how much these legislators have received and how they have voted on legislation that affects the gambling industry.
With its vast resources, the Globe could also be checking into some other glaring problems in this area, many of which have been brought up in The Turner Report and in other area news/commentary sites, such as Neoshoforums.com, Diamondtownforums.com, Senecaforums.com, and Lamarmo.com
The Globe has touched on the controversy surrounding Newton County Sheriff Ron Doerge, but to this point has only done it in the outdated get a quote from this guy, then get a quote from his opponent style. No digging, no public service.
How about the obvious problems in the Diamond R-4 School District. The nepotism situation there, if not illegal, is definitely worth an investigative report. How does this affect the school and the perception of the school? Have people with more experience been released from jobs while family members remained safe in their positions? And what about the obvious manipulation by Superintendent Mark Mayo? How can he get rid of two elementary teachers for budget reasons, then find the money to keep the positions and not offer them to the people who were fired?
And what about the lawsuit against Edison Schools? East Newton, Sarcoxie, and McDonald County have had profitable summer schools run by Newton Learning, the summer school arm of Edison. How is it that Diamond is the only school dissatisfied. Mayo, in his communications with the media, named other schools that were dissatisfied, but as far as I can tell, those schools never contracted with Edison to run a summer school. Why hasn't the Globe examined this issue. It doesn't appear it would take anywhere near as much time and money as the dead voter investigation took. Of course, the dead voter investigation could have ended up winning journalism prizes if it had panned out.
Sticking with the Diamond R-4 School District, how about the fraud investigation into two teachers who have allegedly defrauded the state school retirement fund...it appears with the complete approval of school officials.
Or how about a complete investigation into the success or failure of school districts across the nation that have instituted drug testing policies. Surely there are enough who have done so by now to find out how they have worked. And don't just limit the investigation to school officials. They are unlikely to admit it if the program has gone south. Also check with law enforcement officials, crime records, and dropout records. Has the drug usage gone down because many of the drug users are being encouraged to leave the school system?
And while we're at it, why not look at school districts that have tried other methods to curb drug usage, without resorting to curbing civil liberties? How are those methods working? With so many schools going with this latest educational fad, maybe it is time for a newspaper to conduct a wide-ranging investigation.
I could name a dozen other subjects that are worthy of investigations, most of which would take nowhere near the time, effort, and money that the dead voter investigation took, but you get the point.
The second round of bidding has reportedly begun in the auction of Liberty Group Publishing, the company that owns The Neosho Daily News, The Carthage Press, The Neosho Post, and The Big Nickel, in addition to more than 300 other U. S. publications. The company is expected to fetch a price in the neighborhood of $500 million.
The Atlanta Business Chronicle reported this week that Calphalon, a subsidiary of Newell Rubbermaid, is moving its corporate headquarters to Atlanta. The move is the latest being made by Newell Rubbermaid to consolidate its operations. These moves include a stated goal of shutting down 84 facilities and cutting 12,000 jobs. So far, the company has closed 78 facilities and eliminated 10,800 jobs. These policies were put into place during a time in which one of the men setting the direction was O'Sullivan Industries' million-dollar CEO Robert Parker.
One of those moves, detailed this month in The Turner Report, was the move of Newell Rubbermaid's corporate headquarters from Freeport, Illinois, to Atlanta. At that time, the company pledged that its facility in Rockford, Illinois, would see no layoffs for three years. Within a few months, that facility was closed and hundreds were unemployed.
The recent moves to eliminate officials at O'Sullivan Industries with strong Lamar ties does not bode well for the city. Nor does the climate in the nation which places the needs of faceless stockholders ahead of the needs of workers and communities.
Jasper High School Principal Bill Hodge was one of those quoted in a Columbia Missourian article this week about inequities in the Foundation Formula used to fund Missouri public schools.
It was pointed out that one school had the money, thanks to the state, to build a rock climbing wall. Hodge said, "I'm not asking for a rock-climbing wall; I'm asking for a suitable place where our elementary and junio high kids can have adequate instruction."
It was noted in the article that Jasper students receive $5,500 less per year than the students in the schools which receive the most Foundation money. At the same time, it was also noted that Jasper schools are much better off than others in southwest Missouri, including McDonald County, which has the lowest per pupil rate, $4,560, in the state. A group of schools from across the state are suing the state to come up with a more equitable funding system.
It has been overlooked locally as far as I can tell, but one of the architects of the Precious Moments collectibles boom retired this week. Eugene Freedman, CEO of Enesco, the company that distributes the teardrop-shaped figurines, retired at age 79. Freedman is credited with working with creator Sam Butcher to develop the Precious Moments line, which later helped turn Carthage into a tourist attraction.
Neoshoforums.com has been abuzz with word that a complaint has been filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission against Newton County Sheriff Ron Doerge. Hopefully, I will be able to find out more later.
As always, anyone with news tips or stories can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or can send those or related documents to me at 2306 E. 8th, Joplin, MO. 64801.