Sunday, October 31, 2004

I had some time today to re-examine the media coverage of the Ron Doerge investigation and I am still perplexed about the initial article in The Neosho Daily News.
The lead of the story made it appear as if some mysterious, malevolent force was trying to create a problem in Newton County. "Someone identified only as 'administrator' has posted a copy of a complaint allegedly filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission on the website " That was how Michelle Pippin's article began.
The problems with the article are not with Michelle, but with the editing. With an inexperienced staff like the one Buzz Ball has in Neosho (with the exception of John Ford), it is important for the editor to help guide his reporters in the right direction.
Instead, Michelle was left wide open to ridicule with her last paragraph. "Although the identity of the 'administrator" is not revealed on the Neosho Forums website, the Neosho Daily News has learned who this individual is, and he, too, could not be reached by press time."
In the first place, the name of the administrator is very definitely listed on the Neosho Forums site. Even though I am fully aware of the administrator's real name, I decided to see just how long it would take me to find out who he is through some simple research.
First, I checked out the Site News on the Forums site and quickly found his name on an item posted Oct. 8, 17 days before the Daily article ran.
I decided to throw that one out since not everyone is as familiar with how to navigate Neosho Forums as I am. It took only a few seconds on the Google search engine to find a July 21, 2003, "Ozarks Connection' column from the Springfield News-Leader, which featured the administrator's vision for Neosho Forums and similar sites he was setting up across southwest Missouri.
It took less than five minutes to find two sources with his name, which I am not printing because I don't want to make things too easy for the traditional media. The Joplin Globe must not have had any problems since the name was featured in its Tuesday, Oct. 26, edition. Many times hard-working young reporters can work miracles if they are given a little advice, a little encouragement, and pointed in the right direction. In these days of the Internet, e-mail, cell phones, etc., there is no reason why reporters can't come up with the information they need most of the time. But they have to know where to look and sometimes it takes an experienced hand to show them.
I can remember three or fours years ago when I lectured to journalism classes at Missouri Southern about the ways in which the Internet can be used for investigative journalism. Many of them were amazed at what could be found out by surfing the net. There are ways of finding out many things that were not available to reporters only a decade ago.
Unfortunately, many times young reporters are not exposed to that kind of training. It's not their fault. They are doing the best they can. The inability to verify the administrator's name is a minor problem. The stories that aren't being done because reporters don't know where to look for information is a major problem. As long as we have editors and reporters who don't know how to dig or who are not given the time to do so, it is the reading public that will suffer.
The futility of "No Child Left Behind" was never more apparent to me than when I was listening to a speaker from the Children's Center during a teacher in-service at South Middle School Friday.
President Bush acts as if all problems with education are going to be miraculously served by this program. The Democrats act as if the program is not going to work unless an incredible amount of money is poured into it.
Both sides are dead wrong.
Under the guidelines of "No Child Left Behind," each year a greater number of students will master mathematics and reading until in the year 2014 all students will be required to do so.
It's a laudable goal, but it is a goal that is impossible to achieve.
The underlying premise of "No Child Left Behind" is that the public education system has failed America. While there is no doubt that the system can be improved, in some places greatly, the educational system is far from the only reason that children are being left behind.
Some statistics furnished by the Children's Center provide an explanation as to what other forces come into play. Between 1997 and 2004, 657 children in this area have gone through the center having been physically or sexually abused. Those are just the ones which have gone through Children's Center. Imagine the number of children who never receive any help. Some of them do succeed, but how many will never be able to escape the cycle of abuse and will recycle it generation after generation?
Even when the workers at the center, or teachers, or clergymen, or others are able to discover the problem, how many times are their efforts blocked or at least slowed down by the Family Services bureaucracy. The speaker told of times when one DFS worker would say that nothing could be done, but another phone call placed when that worker is off duty would result in a visit.
Children are exposed to parents who have serious drug problems and who are unable to take care of themselves, much less their children. This is a societal problem, not just an educational problem, and it is one that the major parties have not addressed during this campaign season.
How many parents are not there when their children get home from school in the afternoon, because they have to work two jobs to make ends meet? That number appears destined to increase with so many jobs being eliminated and outsourced and replaced with lower-paying jobs. That is not just a problem of the educational system.
"No Child Left Behind" mandates that scores will increase for children who live in extreme poverty. We have always worked to help these children succeed, but how can we get positive results when the underlying reason for their poverty still exists. This has not been addressed in the presidential campaign.
How can educational professionals deal with the ever-increasing amount of emotional problems children face when their parents divorce? We are being asked to handle serious emotional problems, work these children into the fabric of the classroom, and not miss a beat, while continuing to improve standardized test scores.
An article in one of the educational magazines that I was reading last night also detailed the decreasing amount of time teachers can spend on preparing for classes because they are handling paperwork brought on by federal and state education departments, as well as documentation needed to stave off the growing number of lawsuits being filed by parents who make no effort to go through the system to resolve problems, but automatically head for lawyers in efforts to get rich quickly.
Educators have also seen an increasing number of behavioral problems caused by homes in which the students have no support network. When the students fail to make the grade at school, teachers find that many times the parents don't care, or blame the teachers and the schools for the problems.
In the past, when children got into trouble at school, that was nothing compared to the trouble they were going to receive at home. Parents supported the teachers and the school. In many cases, it is still like that. But teachers are seeing more and more instances where parents are standing in the way of their children receiving a quality education.
How can you get through to children about the need for a quality education when their parents don't see that need? You have some who would not even send their children to school if they were not required to do so by law.
Too many obstacles stand in the way of "No Child Left Behind" for it to ever be the smashing success President Bush and other supporters of the act envision. When you have an entire support system that is broken, don't expect public education to perform miracles.
The concept of "No Child Left Behind" is an insult to teachers and other education professionals. I have never met anyone who said, "Let's leave these children behind." Teachers, at least the good ones, agonize over the children who fall behind and pray that someone will be able to reach them and help them to succeed. Our goal has always been to leave no child behind. We never needed President Bush or any of the act's other supporters to tell us that.
The education system is far from perfect, but it is a reflection of our society. Make No Child Left Behind a goal instead of a mandate and include the other challenges that must be met...poverty, jobs, broken families, physical and sexual abuse of children, and other problems. That is the only way we will ever be able to ensure that no child is left behind.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

While I was pleasantly surprised by The Joplin Globe's decision to endorse Claire McCaskill for governor, I was not surprised by the vehement reaction that choice brought from former State Representative T. Mark Elliott of Carl Junction.
In his letter to the editor in today's paper, Elliott railed against the Globe endorsement, saying it went against everything the newspaper had stood for in the past.
"Shame on you for endorsing Claire McCaskill for governor," Elliott began. The former legislator refers to Ms. McCaskill as being one of "Bob Griffin's lapdogs" referring to the former Speaker of the House. "McCaskill represents everything that is wrong with state government."
While Elliot is entitled to his opinion, he is the last one who should be casting stones at Claire McCaskill or at anyone else.
During a spirited re-election battle against challenger Steve Hunter in 1998, Elliott accepted campaign contributions from seven lobbyists, two lobbyists' wives and more than 20 political action committees, many of them representing big business interests.
There is nothing illegal about accepting campaign contributions from lobbyists, but it must have embarrassed Elliott because none of them were listed as lobbyists on the portion of the disclosure form that requires the occupation of contributors.
Even while Elliott was accepting these contributions, he was filing a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission because Hunter had accepted a $2,000 personal loan. "THIS committee DOES NOT ACCEPT LOANS as contributions," Elliott wrote proudly on his campaign form.
Among those contributing to Elliott's campaign were former State Representative Jerry Burch, listed as being with Burch and Associates. Burch worked as a lobbyist once he left the legislature, representing, among other groups, the Branson Chamber of Commerce, City Utilities of Springfield, the County Commissioners Association of Missouri, Southwest Missouri State University, and the Missouri Hospital Association. Burch contributed $200.
Contributing $250, to Elliott was J. Scott Marrs, Springfield, lobbyist at the time for Bass Pro Shops, Branson Chamber of Commerce, City of Springfield, City Utilities of Springfield, MCI, and the Missouri Hospital Association. Marrs was listed as a "government consultant."
Mark J. Rhoads, Jefferson City, gave the maximum (at that time) $275. He represented AT&T, Anheuser-Busch, the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, City of Joplin, General American Life Insurance Company, Leggett & Platt and St. Joseph Riverboat. He was also listed as a government consultant.
Rhoads' wife, Kristy L. Rhoads, listed as a housewife, also gave the maximum $275 contribution.
Another government consultant, Brent Hemphill, Jefferson City, donated $100. His clients included City of Joplin, General American Life Insurance Company, Missouri Telecommunications Coalition, Missouri Insurance Coalition, and St. Joseph Riverboat.
Randy Scherr, Jefferson City, listed as an "executive director" was a registered lobbyist, whose client list included Lambert St. Louis International Airport, Prudential Insurance, RCA Mutual Insurance and Southwestern Bell. He contributed $250.
Elliott received a $125 contribution from Juanita Pierce, listed as a housewife, whose husband was lobbyist Jack Pierce, who represented Missouri Credit Union System, Missouri Highway Transportation and Highway Patrol, the Missouri Sheriffs Association and the Missouri Employee Retirement System.
Jeff Leeka, who contributed $75, was listed as a district manager, but it was not mentioned for what company he worked in that capacity. At that time, he had that post at Empire District Electric Company, and was also a registered lobbyist for Empire District.
Michael G. Winter, listed as a "self-employed government consultant on Elliott's disclosure form, was also listed on the National Lobbyist Directory. Among his clients were the Riverboat Gaming Association, Columbia Health Care Association, GTE, Missouri Self-Insurers Association and the Life Insurance Association of Missouri.
While I was reviewing my files from six years ago, I discovered I missed another contribution from a lobbyist's wife. Deborah Deutsch, Jefferson City, who contributed the maximum $275, is the wife of lobbyist James Deutsch, who represents the Southwest Casino and Hotel Corporation.
Elliott also received large contributions from the Missouri Insurance Coalition, KC Life Employees PAC, Shelter Insurance PAC, Sprint of Missouri PAC, Missouri Soft Drink Association, KC Power and Light, Missouri Businesses for Good Government, Rural Telecommunications, GTE Good Government Club, Savings Association of Missouri, Conservative Committee of Southwest Missouri, Committee for Political Action for Missouri CPAs, University of Missouri PAC, Realtors PAC of Missouri, American Family Insurance PAC, Missouri Right-to-Life PAC, and a number of individual contributors from this area including several with ties to Leggett & Platt.
Elliott has every right to state his opinion, but considering his efforts to hide the true employment status of some of his contributors, it seems in rather poor taste for him to refer to anyone as someone's "lapdog."
While going through my files, I came across a startling piece of information. Last week marked 10 years since the death of Peggy Hillman from complications from an automobile accident.
People who still enjoy the beauty of Lamar High School, even though that facility is nearing 20 years old, can thank Mrs. Hillman. During the mid-1980s, school officials were planning on a patchwork approach to building that would have added a little here and a little there, but Mrs. Hillman had a much greater vision.
Former R-1 Superintendent Barbara Burns told me shortly after Mrs. Hillman's death on Oct. 27, 1994, "She was the one who suggested that we think bigger, that we go for a new high school."
Mrs. Hillman, who was the daughter of another visionary thinker, Tom O'Sullivan, not only came up with the idea, but she sold it to the public. She headed the steering committee that brought in the issue with nearly 80 percent of the vote, something that was nearly unheard of.
"Without Peggy Hillman," Mrs. Burns said, "we would not have this high school. It's a tribute to her efforts." I was there at the meeting when she proposed the high school idea and at a couple of meetings of the steering committee. She was a tireless worker.
The same thing was true in everything else she did in the community and in her church. She was the driving force behind the establishment of the Jubilee Handbell Choir at the First Baptist Church. That choir later became the first such group to perform the National Anthem before a Kansas City Royals ballgame.
She was only 48 when she died, far too young.
One of the hardest working teachers at Diamond Middle School (with all of the turnover I don't know many of them any more, but I'll stick by this statement) is Mrs. Renee Jones, who teachers language arts.
In addition to her regular teaching duties, she has been Middle School Student Council sponsor for the past six years. The R-4 School District does not pay her a stipend for the time she puts in on that task. For the first few years she did it, she did not receive a cent. For the past three or four years, she has been reimbursed through the State of Missouri's Career Ladder program.
That will not be the case this year.
Middle School Administrator Danny DeWitt told the R-4 Board of Education two weeks ago that he had found out at a Career Ladder meeting in Monett that middle school student council would no longer be eligible for Career Ladder funding.
DeWitt asked the board to consider paying a stipend to Mrs. Jones. This should have been a no-brainer, even for this school board. As you might guess, it wasn't. They asked DeWitt to provide them with more information at the next board meeting.
During the time I was at Diamond Middle School, Mrs. Jones had the student council doing far more than the high school student council (and Diamond High School has a pretty hard working student council).
The group sponsored two dances each year (three the last year I was there), supplied toys at Christmas to the Lafayette House, Ronald McDonald House, and the Joplin Boys and Girls Club, helped the organizers of Project CAT, held two book drives for the new middle school library, that brought in more than 3,000 books, sang Christmas Carols throughout the community, took care of the marquee in front of the school, read the daily bulletin over the intercom, and provided gifts and goodies for teachers during National Teachers Week.
The group also sponsored essay and short story contests, sponsored school assemblies, helped with Red Ribbon Week, and offered an Ambassador Program to welcome new students into the school district.
They raised money and put it back into the school, buying a digital camera for use at school events, planting a tree for former student Kelsee Anderson, who died in a fire, and sponsoring a Spirit Week each year.
And that is just a partial list.
Before the middle school moved into the old high school building three years ago, it financed many of its efforts through sales from a pop machine. The council was told that it would have the proceeds from four machines when it moved into its new building. Since the one pop machine had brought in more than $900, the council was looking forward to putting the money back into the school and truly making a difference.
Thanks to Superintendent Mark Mayo, that plan was sidetracked. Mayo diverted all but $600 from the pop machine money to cover money that had been allegedly cut from the athletic department. In the end, even though he was claiming that the athletic department had been treated the same as all other departments when the budget cuts made, the pop machine money covered the shortfall.
Renee Jones didn't sit around and bemoan the obvious injustice of Mayo's actions as some would have. She came up with the idea of having the council selling snacks in the concession stand before school. The council members worked diligently and were able to raise enough money during that year to hold three dances (one more than usual) and buy a number of items for the school.
I don't know how many times I had Diamond High School students who were on the high school student council tell me they had been a little disappointed because they were used to doing so many activities in middle school student council and doing so many things to help other people because that is what Mrs. Jones believes student government should be about.
There was no record in the minutes of Mayo supporting the request for a stipend for Mrs. Jones. Of course, this is the same man who wanted to pay a stipend for Football Coach Brad Hocker and the basketball coach whose name escapes me to keep the weight room open in the summer. He wanted to pay for it by eliminating the cheerleading sponsor. Fortunately, the board didn't go for that.
I probably shouldn't back Danny DeWitt's proposal since that will likely stir Mayo's paranoia and he will believe that DeWitt is one of the legions of people who are plotting against them. (Actually, it's not paranoia when everyone IS against you.) If the board fails to authorize a stipend for Mrs. Jones, or fails to make it a sizable one, it is once again sending the message of what it thinks is important. After all, the student council is a year-long worthwhile activity that puts a lot back into the school. The taxpayers have paid four-figure stipends to coaches for football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball and golf, and pay something like $800 a year for middle school assistant coaches. At the same time, it paid $200 as of a couple of years ago to the people who run the high school academic team (which competes all year long) and pay nothing to the middle school academic advisor (that is left to Career Ladder).
This decision probably isn't going to be carefully watched by people in the R-4 School District, but it should be. It's this kind of decision that tells you what a school board really stands for.
Renee Jones is the type of teacher the district should be proud to have on its faculty. A stipend for student council is the least the board can do. It's an embarrassment that it needs a month to consider it.
If you would like to get an idea of what the Diamond Middle School Student Council has done in the past, take a look at my original Wildcat Central site (not the one I am currently using). You can find the Student Council page, as well as a number of articles on the Diamond Daily and Archives pages at
(And while you're at it, take a look at the content on that site, which the district received for free, then compare it to the "official" district website at )

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Thanks to a decision made by the Missouri Supreme Court today, a sexual predator will be kept away from the public.
The state's top court refused to hear the appeal of Michael Goddard, 32, who was committed to a state institution under a law which allows the staet to hold dangerous sexual predators.
Goddard's history left no doubt that he belonged in that category. By failing to hear the appeal, the court backed the Aug. 10 decision of the Southern District Court of Appeals which backed up Jasper County officials.
According to court records, Goddard's attorney tried to have the decision reversed, claiming that testimony given by Dr. Rinta Khan, using statistical models to show that Goddard, who has a long record of pedophilic sexual attraction to boys, would continue to commit sexual crimes if he were allowed to reenter the community.
Goddard's criminal record began at age 15, when he molested a seven-year-old boy, according to court records. Three years later, at age 18, he sodomized an 11-year-old boy, and was sentenced to four years in prison. Other molestations might have been prevented, if he had actually gone to prison. Court records indicate Goddard actually spent 50 days shock time in jail, had his sentence suspended and was placed on probation.
Part of the probation deal was that Goddard was to go through a sexual offender treatment program. He refused to do so. Finally, he was sent to the state hospital at Fulton for in-patient treatment, which also did no good because Goddard continued to refuse to participate. He also "totally lacked remorse, " according to the appellate court opinion.
Apparently, Goddard's probation officer didn't know or wasn't concerned when Goddard began to date a woman with three children under the age of 10. One month after he was released from Fulton, he admitted to molesting her son several times, according to court records, as well as molesting other boys. In November 1992, he pleaded guilty to sodomizing his girlfriend's son and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, to be served concurrently with his original four-year sentence, since he had obviously violated the terms of his probation.
During his decade in prison, he did not take part in any treatment for his problem, insisting that there was nothing wrong with him. Court records indicate he blamed others for everything he did.
Thanks to the Joplin Globe for bringing to the public's attention the fact that the Diamond R-4 Board of Education is considering drug testing of students who participate in extracurricular activities.
The discussion was not even mentioned in the official minutes of the meeting, which were posted on the "official" Diamond R-4 website, , today. The minutes made mention of the district volleyball tournament, a new keylock system for the school buildings, and a number of minor reports, but drug testing, which brings up questions of civil rights, as well as use of taxpayer money, did not have a single word devoted to it.
The issue was also not mentioned in Superintendent Mark Mayo's Cat E-News, which was published today. Minutes of meetings are supposed to reflect what actually happened during the meeting and while the superintendent has every right to write about anything he wants to, most of his column, written on taxpayer time and on taxpayer equipment, was devoted to sports. Who knows what others things are being discussed when the Joplin Globe doesn't happen to be around?
One thing that had to be menitioned in the board minutes, primarily because a vote was taken, was the board's decision to spend more than $3,000 annually to a firm to help maintain the district's website. I have already written plenty about the current Diamond administration and its dealings with both its current "official" website and the site I did for the school, Wildcat Central at , while I was an employee there.
I would make a strong suggestion that whoever gets the job of maintaining the website should make sure it has things in writing. Mayo and he board have a history of cheating people who have worked on creating websites for the school district.
I spotted a television ad for Newton County Republican sheriff candidate Kenneth Copeland during tonight's 5 p.m. news. It featured an on-air endorsement by Ron Doerge. The ad made it appear that Copeland was responsible for every good thing that had happened in law enforcement in recent years. I don't know that he wasn't, but it did seem to stretch credibility a bit. A couple of the people who appear in the Copeland ad are the same ones who have written letters recently in support of Ron Doerge. It appears that the Doerge machine is getting revved up. Despite the recent upswing in support for Copeland's opponent, Dwayne Fisher, this morning's Globe had "observers" saying that Copeland has the election safely in hand.
Who are these "observers" and why should we believe anything they say. I can understand withholding the names of sources if they could cause them to lose their jobs or put their lives in danger, but why use unnamed sources in this case? It appears to be more a case of either a gratuitous comment by the reporter or a case of lazy reporting.

The Ron Doerge controversy made it to page three of today's Joplin Globe, which insures that it will be on the tv stations later today.
As anyone who watches local television news knows, the TV stations have no problem taking the lead on positive fluff-type stories whether anyone else has covered them or not, but when it comes to investigative pieces or stories that have no feel good element to them, KODE, KSNF, and KOAM wait until they have been featured in The Joplin Globe.
The Globe article also guarantees the Doerge story will be featured on various radio telecasts across the area, since some of them get their news from the TV stations and others just read it out of the Globe, some without even rewording it.
If you have not been following, , an independently operated message board, on Sunday printed a copy of a complaint to the Missouri Ethics Commission against Newton County Sheriff Ron Doerge, claiming Doerge created a fictional group to seek information against Republican sheriff candidates that could be used to support Doerge's personally-anointed candidate Kenneth Copeland.
The website also featured an excerpt from an audiotape in which Doerge used profane language and vowed to take action against traitors in his department.
Doerge, in his response to the Neosho Daily News, the first traditional media outlet to run the story, and The Globe insists the ethics complaint is an action by a "disgruntled former employee" and the sheriff insists that he never uses profanity.
Further developments are expected in the next few days.
Another testimonial for Newton Learning, the summer school arm of Edison Schools, came at last Thursday night's meeting of the East Newton R-6 Board of Education, according to this morning's Globe. The board voted to authorize Superintendent Jeff Kyle to enter into a contract with Newton Learning to provide East Newton's summer school for a second year.
Kyle, the former superintendent at Jasper, said the program was successful in terms of attendance and learning, according to the Globe.
Apparently, the only school that has not done well with Newton Learning has been Diamond, which is suing the company for approximately $87,000. Superintendent Mark Mayo has claimed that several other schools in the district have had problems with Edison, but as far as I can determine, none of these schools have ever entered into a contract with the company.
I have talked with educators in the Sarcoxie R-2 School District, which has used Edison for several years and they are very happy with it. Edison, during its one year running the Diamond summer school program, provided the curriculum, a wealth of educational materials which it allowed the district to keep, paid the teachers, and made money.
Educators I have spoken to from other school districts cannot understand what Diamond's problem with Edison is or why the school district is taking the expensive option of hiring lawyers to take a company which made money for Diamond to court.
The last filing in the lawsuit, which was moved from Newton County Circuit Court to U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, took place Sept. 8. No court dates or hearings have been set.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Forget about any reputable newspaper company buying Liberty Group Publishing, the company that owns The Neosho Daily News, The Carthage Press, The Neosho Post, and the Big Nickel, and a total of 300 publications in the United States.
Newspaper industry sources say the newspaper companies did not survive the first round of bidding for Liberty which ended earlier this month. The only remaining suitors for the newspaper company are private equity investors, who are looking at the company as a cash cow.
"Only financial buyers are left in the auction," the source said.
Liberty DEO Ken Serota has claimed in print interviews that his company is "recession-proof" because it is insulated in the communites in which it serves. In nearly all of the towns in which Liberty has properties, it has no competition, which makes the company extremely attractive to investors.
These companies generally expect a 30 to 35 percent profit each year, which usually can only be done with continued purchases of new properties or by cutting payroll costs and quality.
It was only about two decades ago that a 20 percent profit was considered outstanding and many newspapers were content with half of that.
Ninety-six percent of Liberty Group Publishing is currently owned by the leveraged buyout firm Leonard Green and Partners from Los Angeles. Investment companies have made a general practice of buying newspapers, increasing the value of the properties through further acquistions, and draconian cost-cutting measures, including consolidating operations, then sell the companies in five to 10 years. Liberty Group Publishing was formed seven years ago from newspapers which were once a part of Hollinger International, a Canadian firm.
Since that time, in this area, the company gutted the operation of The Carthage Press, removing its printing press and selling it for parts and requiring the newspaper to have earlier deadlines so it can be printed in Neosho. Liberty also cut the production staff in Carthage, having the work done in Neosho, fired the inserters so that work could be done in Neosho, and after all of those moves, recently announced plans to move its offices to a site on Central Avenue in Carthage, far from the downtown building in which it has been situated for 50 years. That building is now too large for The Press since it no longer has a printing press, or a composing department.
Changes also affected the much smaller weekly, the Miller Press, which had its offices consolidated with the offices of the weekly Greenfield Vedette, nearly 20 miles away.
There is no way of forecasting the future, but it appears that the area newspapers will likely remain under the same publishers and editors who currently manage the day-to-day operations.
The Ron Doerge situation continues to develop in Newton County. The administrator of released a complaint filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission against the Newton County sheriff.
He also released a portion of an audiotape which apparently has Doerge using foul language and threatening the people in his department who are turning against him. In today's Neosho Daily News, Doerge claimed that it was not his voice on the tape and that he never uses profanity. Everything was attributed to a "disgruntled ex-employee." I hate to disillusion Doerge, who has served four four-year terms as sheriff, but is not running for re-election next month, but Newton County must be starting to fill up with "disgruntled ex-employees" considering the number of people who are voicing concerns about the ham-handed way he has tried to continue his dominance of the county by pulling the strings for Republican nominee Kenneth Copeland.
I thoroughly expect more revelations will be coming every day. Once the dam breaks, and people, this dam has definitely been broken, the flood waters are going to come pouring through and they may just drown Ron Doerge. A lot of people have been waiting for the opportunity to right wrongs they believe he has committed against them and they now see his aura of invincibility rapidly eroding.
The media coverage has been interesting. So far, the Daily has been the only member of the traditional media to tackle it with Michelle Pippin turning in a well-balanced account. It would be easier if the Daily had someone with connections witnin the department and the community. If it did, I guarantee you it would take no time to come up with a series of stories that could put the newspaper on the map with state, regional, and national investigative reporting awards. When you don't have those sources, though, you are limited to a get a quote from each side brand of journalism. It's fair, but it doesn't provide the public with the in-depth informaton it needs to know what is really going on.
The Joplin Globe did not run a story this morning. That could very well be because of the limited manpower it has available on Sundays (just check how thin the Monday newspapers are). Tomorrow will be the test for the Globe.
None of the TV stations carried anything on their 5 or 6 p.m. reports, or at least I didn't see anything and the Fox station did not carry it on its 9 p.m. report a few minutes ago.
The problem here is that Doerge has made a career out of boosting his reputation by constantly playing up to the electronic media. If they seek scandal, they risk cutting off their access to the Newton County Sheriff's Department. This is also not a story that lends itself to television. There are no visual elements to it, except a face shot of Doerge, a shot of the outside of the sheriff's office, and perhaps a shot of the copy of the complaint that was filed against the sheriff.
Our local newspapers with reporters forced to meet quotas of stories at the Globe and having too little time and too many stories at the smaller daily newspapers, are ill-equipped to handle investigative reports. The TV reporters are even less trained than the print journalists for this kind of story and usually just ignore them.
The traditional media had better be ready, though. Further developments may make this story impossible to ignore.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

I have the information on the complaint to the Missouri Ethics Commission about Newton County Sheriff Ron Doerge much quicker than I had anticipated. After I finished my last post to The Turner Report, I checked my e-mail and there was a message from the administrator at ,directing me to a link on that site which featured the details of the complaint. The name of the person who filed the complaint was redacted, most likely because that person would have lost his or her job if Sheriff Doerge found out he or she had the guts to step forward.
This is the complaint:
"I as employee of Newton County under the direction of my superiors set up a make believe group called 'County Citizens.' This group was to ask questions of other candidates running for sheriff. My superior Sheriff Ron Doerge endorsed one candidate Ken Copeland. No questions were to be asked to that candidate. This work was to be done on duty so that answers could be given to Sheriff Doerge immediately. Information was to be used to see that the candidate Ken Copeland was elected because Sheriff Doerge could stay on in the Department as a advisor. I followed instructions of the Sheriff." has done a great public service with its work in uncovering this information. We have heard much on the national level on how bloggers and independent websites are often setting the agenda for the major media. The same thing is happening in the local area with sites like and The Turner Report. has reported over the last few days how Doerge loaded these questions to the candidates so he would have ammunition against them in the election. It was reported first in, then in The Turner Report, and finally in The Joplin Globe and The Neosho Daily News how Doerge supplied questions to KBTN radio host John McCormack for a sheriff candidate forum before the August primary even though that was obviously an ethical lapse by both the sheriff and McCormack.
It appears that Doerge's health may prohibit him from serving a fifth four-year term as sheriff, but he intends to remain the power behind the throne. If we had waited for the traditional media to tackle this issue, it never would have happened. The Newton County public owes a great debt to
I have a strong feeling that more revelations are to come.
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,,, and
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 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.
*** 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 or can send those or related documents to me at 2306 E. 8th, Joplin, MO. 64801.

Friday, October 22, 2004

The public's right to know has always been important to me, but apparently some do not share my high opinion of that concept.
In his most recent edition of E-Cat News, Diamond R-4 Superintendent fails to mention the drug testing proposal which was one of the big ticket items at the most recent meeting of the R-4 Board of Education. Of course, there was also no mention of drug testing on the meeting's agenda. So much for the public's right to know.
It's arrogant for elected officials and the administrators they hire to determine they alone know what is best for the people and they will go along with it if all dissent is stopped beforehand.
It is not always elected officials to keep the public from knowing all of the information. Recently in The Turner Report I compared the coverage of the Neosho R-5 Board of Education meeting as written in The Joplin Globe and The Neosho Daily News. In the Globe's version, the dissent within the Neosho community concerning any financial proposal presented by the school board and administration was played up, while in the Daily's article it was barely touched on.
The same type of widely differing coverage was evident in the two newspapers' recent articles over the Carson and Barnes Circus visit to Neosho. The Globe mentioned that the circus was being criticized by PETA, an animal-rights organization for causing the death of a five-year-old elephant.
No controversy was mentioned at all in any of the Daily's coverage of the event. In fact, it appears that a top of page one article about the circus the day it was in town was written by circus publicists.
The tell-tale clue is the use of the phrase "From staff reports" for the byline. If it had truly been written by someone on the Daily's staff, it would have had a reporter's name attached to it.
The phrase "From staff reports" almost always indicates that it is a news release, written by someone who wants totally favorable coverage of whatever organization or activity is involved.
Sometimes, not a single letter of the news release is changed, but that phrase The only addition is the three words, "From Staff Reports" to make it look like the staff actually played a role in gathering the information for the story.
And it read like a press release with its circus is coming to town p.r. flack tone.
News releases play a valuable part in putting together newspapers. There is no way reporters can cover everything. My rule of thumb at The Carthage Press and The Lamar Democrat about news releases was that I would run them, but I would make it clear that the information was being provided by the organization or company. I would insert a few "according to a news relase from" in the story. The public needs that in order to be able to judge the source of the information.
Obviously, a press release from Carson and Barnes would not include any information about the allegations that had been leveled against the circus.
The allegations have mostly been made by animal rights groups, so that has to be taken into consideration, but the public can fairly judge if it is provided with all sides. The animal rights activists have publicized the fact that the USDA is investigating the circus for the death of Jennie, a five-year-old Asian elephant that contracted elephant herpes virus.
There are websites that note the USDA has investigated the circus a number of times for more than a decade, usually for allegedly not providing veterinary care to animals that needed it.
In July 1997, Cindy Machado, an investigator for the Marin, Colorado, Humane Society wrote in her report, "This is the worst case of neglect I have seen in my 12 years as an investigator. I watched animals become injured with blood dripping down their legs without being treated. There were ponies and horses with open, draining saddle sores, that were still being ridden."
Ms. Machado also noted that she saw elephants with "soccer ball-size boils" and a hippopotamus that had no access to water.
These allegations of violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, some of which were noted in the Globe story, were pieces of information that the people of Neosho had a right to know so they could make an informed decision on whether to increase the profit for the Carson and Barnes Circus.
Instead the readers of the hometown newspaper were presented with a story either largely or completely written by a person whose job is to rake in every buck possible for the circus.
Efforts to keep the public from having access to information appear to spreading all over Newton County. , a website operated by the same people who give us and , has reported the dismissal of a school employee there, allegedly because she posted items on the board. The website also mentions that a coach's decision to close middle school basketball practices and not allow parents to watch them will be discussed by the school board in closed session. That not only goes against the public's right to know, but if that information is accurate, it is a blatant violation of the Missouri Open Meetings Law.
The third quarter report for Carthage-based Fortune 500 company Leggett & Platt has been issued and everything is upbeat. The company's news release (that's how you are supposed to do it) says it set an all-time record of $1.34 billion in quarterly sales, up $181 million and 16 percent over the third quarter in 2003.
Quarterly earnings were at a record 41 cents per diluted share. The news release credited "higher sales, ongoing consolidation, and cost reduction efforts."

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

At first, I thought the idea of the Neosho R-5 Board of Education holding two meetings Monday night to discuss a possible bond issue was an innovative one. Then after careful consideration, I realized that what I thought was two meetings was simply two media outlets with vastly different perspectives.
This morning's Joplin Globe indicated there is a group of people with strong concerns about any bond issue proposed by the current board and administration in the R-5 School District.
This evening's Neosho Daily News presented an outlook of the meeting that was a polar opposite. Everyone is pulling together to figure out a way to get a bond issue passed, which is greatly needed by the school district, and there is no dissension in the community.
Media outlets control what the public knows through their careful selection of which facts to use. The Globe emphasized a group of citizens who don't trust the current school leadership. The Daily took a non-critical approach that seemed a bit Pollyannaish.
The Globe needs to learn to even the scales with some positive coverage, while the Daily and other area small-town newspapers need to learn that the community needs a newspaper that is willing to explore all sides of an issue, even if some of those sides may be opposed to the powers that be. The power brokers in a town come and go over the space of a few years. If you win over the readers, you will have them forever.
The Daily and the local TV stations report that former Diamond High School principal Robert Blizzard pleaded guilty an indecent exposure charge in Oklahoma and was given a 10-year suspended sentence and placed on probation for 10 years. This is truly a sad, sad story.
A Carthage woman's killer will stay behind bars.
Leroy Norman, convicted of second degree murder in connection with the July 23, 2000, death of Lauren "Angel" Wallis, 24, was turned down Monday by the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals in his bid for a new trial.
Norman's attorneys never claimed that he did not slit Mrs. Wallis's throat following a drunken party at a Carthage home. His appeal was based on alleged procedural errors by the judge.
According to court records, Ms. Wallis made what turned out to be a fatal mistake when she agreed to buy beer for 19-year-old Sandra Guzman, Carthage, and several of Ms. Guzman's underage friends. Miss Wallis then tried to hang around and party with the teenagers, which did not sit well with Ms. Guzman.
Ms. Guzman asked a partygoer named Andy Kelly to throw out Ms. Wallis, who was by that time intoxicated, according to court records. He took her outside and threw her in a dumpster, but she returned to the party.
The decision indicates that Ms. Guzman and Kelly got Norman to drive them to Springfield to get the illegal drug Ecstasy. Norman and Ms. Guzman rode in the cab while Kelly and Mrs. Wallis were in the truck bed.
Apparently, Kelly grew annoyed with Mrs. Wallis and asked Norman and Ms. Guzman if he could kill her. They pulled the truck over on TT Highway next to a low-water bridge near Republic. Court records indicate Kelly choked Mrs. Wallis. He repeatedly kicked her in the head. He then suggested they should just leave her there and let her find her own way home.
The court opinion says, "(Norman) then pulled out a knife and, as Guzman and Kelly both shouted, 'No,' slit (Mrs Wallis's) throat." Norman and Kelly threw the body over the side of the bridge and into the stream.
Norman, Kelly, and Ms. Guzman returned to Carthage. Norman and Kelly "bragged about the killing and Kelly suggested they go on a killing spree when they returned home," according to the opinion.
They stopped at a convenience store. When Norman and Ms. Guzman returned to the car, Kelly had vanished. Norman told Ms. Guzman he would "have to cut (Kelly's) throat, too."
Ms. Guzman reported the murder the next morning to the Carthage Police Department. Greene County Sheriff's deputies found Mrs. Wallis's body where Ms. Guzman said it would be. The autopsy showed it was the cutting of her throat which had killed her despite all of the damage that had been done to her by Kelly.
Kelly was arrested later that day, still wearing the same shirt he had been wearing the night before, according to the court opinion. Officers stopped Norman's car later that day, but he had loaned it to Demetrio Cortez to move some furniture.
Tests run on a knife found in the cab proved negative for the presence of blood, but three spots on a pair of shoes he had left in the truck matched Mrs. Wallis's DNA.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The concept of civil liberties seems more and more elusive.
Maybe it was 9-11. Maybe it's the drug problems that have invaded our communities leaving much wreckage in their wake.I had an interesting conversation with two of my former Diamond students at a convenience story Sunday.
I asked them what they thought about the Diamond R-4 Board of Education's plan to begin drug testing of students who participate in extracurricular activities. They both immediately gave the plan their full approval. "The drugs are really bad," one of them said to me. "Somebody has to do something."
I didn't argue the point.I can understand exactly how they feel. Something has to be done. But drug testing is not the way. Drug testing for students who participate in extracurricular activities is only the first step in what would undoubtedly turn out to be more and more intrusions by government into our lives.
I argued against the drug testing proposal in a post under the name "cateacher" at
Drug testing is a band aid for a problem that needs something more than tired, shopworn ideas. I worry when I see people suggesting that all students be tested, or that everyone from the superintendent to the faculty to the students be tested.
And please don't give me that nonsense about extracurricular activities being a privilege and not a right. Those activities may turn out to be the only salvation for people who have turned to drugs. At least when they are participating in them they are not out on the streets where they could get into even more trouble.
Increase the number of after-school activities, strengthen the counseling corps at the schools. Make sure you are hiring people who relate to students and not old cronies of the superintendent or, as in the case of Diamond Elementary and Diamond Middle School, no counselor at all.
Let student leaders begin an in-school outreach program. Get them to see the importance of reaching out to people beyond their cliques and getting to know people who don't run in their regular circles. Many times, the use of drugs and hanging around with the wrong crowd begins when these young people are just looking for a place to belong and something they can call their own.
Let students know they mean more to you than a figure on the average daily attendance chart or an anonymous score on the MAP test and you may be able to reach them.
It would also help if the current administration didn't keep running veteran teachers out of the school system. Many teachers who put in hours far above what they were required to do under their contracts are no longer in the R-4 School District and many more will undoubtedly be on their way, either of their own volition, or through more machinations of the superintendent and the board of education. The teachers that students have related to are now the teachers that students in other school districts are relating to. The sad thing is, these teachers in many cases are the only adults who can reach some of the troubled students. New teachers who are having to feel their way through the educational process are not quite ready for that responsibility. And they shouldn't have to be.
Making the school a more comfortable, inviting place, where students find not only discipline, but people who actually care about them, is extremely important. This is the best wedge the Diamond R-4 School District or any other school district has against drugs. It has been squandered. There are still many good teachers in the school district, wonderful people who show up early and stay late and always have time for students or parents.
But who can blame the ones who feel a lack of support from the administration and no longer put in those extra hours because they are tired of knocking themselves out for someone who has no appreciation for them.
A strong community, in school and outside of school, are the best bulwarks against drug abuse. Drug testing is simply another way of avoiding responsibility.
Severance agreements have been reached with three former O'Sullivan Industries officials, according to documents filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. The company entered into a severance agreement with Tom Riegel Oct. 8, another one with Richard Davidson on Oct. 13, and one with Tom O'Sullivan Jr. on Oct. 14.
Davidson,the company's former CEO, will be paid his regular salary through the end of the calendar year and will provide consulting services to the company through Dec. 31, 2005, though it is highly unlikely the company will call on him as a consultant.
Davidson and his family may continue to be covered by the company's medical and dental insurance and can continue to receive that insurance under COBRA for an additional 18 months at a premium set by O'Sullivan's Human Resources Department.
Davidson may continue to hold his stock in O'Sullivan Industries.
In return for these considerations, Davidson forfeits any right to file a lawsuit against O'Sullivan Industries, claiming breach of contract or wrongful firing, defamation, infliction of emotional distress, or for age discrimination.
Davidson retains the right as an O'Sullivan Industries stockholder to join in a lawsuit against the company, but he cannot be the one who starts the lawsuit, directly or indirectly, specifically if it involves anything that happened in connection with his dismissal.
The former CEO has to return any "files, records, documents, plans, drawings, equipment, software, pictures, spreadsheets or any other property belonging to O'Sullivan which may be in your possession."
He agreed not to disclose "any confidential or proprietary information concerning O'Sullivan or any of its affiliates, suppliers or customers, including, but not limited to specific processes, procedures, customer lists, financial information, etc. which may be regarded as confidential."
Davidson's agreement also includes a list of competitors for whom he may not work, including Sauder Woodworking, Studio RTA, Bush Industries, Inc., Dorel Industries, Inc., Mills Pride, Masco Corp, Creative Interiors or Furniture Brands International. Inc., or any other such company.
The no-compete agreement ends when Davidson's term as a consultant ends at the end of 2005.
The O'Sullivan officials also want to make sure that Davidson doesn't say anything bad about them. Ironically, in the agreement Davidson has to agree to be "governed by the highest moral and ethical standards, reflecting these values: integrity, honesty, loyalty, trust, fairness, and responsibility."
Riegel's severance agreement has most of the same details, but says he lost his position as Vice President-Strategic Operations because that position was eliminated. O'Sullivan's agreement includes the same provisions a those signed by Riegel and Davidson. O'Sullivan, who was senior vice president-sales, will also continue to receive his automobile allowance through the end of the year and will receive accrued vacation pay.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The purpose of requiring public bodies to post their agendas before meetings is to keep the public informed as to what will go on at those meetings. An informed electorate is one of the hallmarks of a democratic society.
At Thursday night's regularly scheduled meeting of the Diamond R-4 Board of Education, the board members discussed requiring students who want to participate in extracurricular activities to have to undergo drug testing.
That would seem to be an important issue to me and I would imagine it would be an important issue to parents and students no matter how they feel about the idea.
Drug testing is not one of the items listed on the board agenda at the school's "official" website, The superintendent has made sure that only a barebones agenda, telling what officials are going to speak, but not what those officials are going to speak about is listed each month.
This is something the Diamond R-4 Board and many other school boards and city councils across the state do. The purpose of an agenda is to let the public know what is going to be discussed at a meeting. The purpose of the agendas as seen by these public officials is to do the bare minimum the law requires and not let the people know what is going on. After all, it's just the public. Why should the public be allowed to have a say when policies are set that affect them, their children, and their tax money.
Even that barebones agenda was not placed on the website until shortly before the meeting. As late as Wednesday morning (and I did not check it later in the day), the agenda on the website was for the Thursday, Sept. 9, board meeting.
The public deserves to know what topics the board is going to discuss, no matter how mundane they may be. That is what a representative democracy is all about.
That Matt Blunt is really something.
He should have taken up journalism instead of politics. Somehow, he has uncovered a massive scandal involving sexual abuse that is taking place in senior citizen homes and long-term care centers across Missouri. And Claire McCaskill has apparently been ignoring it.
I keep up on these things, too, and there has been no overwhelming scandal in this state of senior citizens being sexually abused in nursing homes. Matt Blunt's ads make it seem like there is an epidemic of perverts preying on our state's senior citizens...and all because of Claire McCaskill.
On the other hand, Claire McCaskill's crack group of watchdogs at the state auditor's office has not been keeping an eye on whether the Division of Aging, which takes care of senior citizens centers and long-term care centers, has been following the law.
State law requires that people who cannot show financial responsibility are not to be allowed too operate nursing homes. Former Carthage Press reporter Cait Purinton, in her award-winning series on the owners of the Lamar Guest House in 1998 showed that owner Robert DuPont had declared bankruptcy, had failed to pay property taxes in Barton County, and had a lien placed on him by the federal government for failure to pay taxes. Of course, all of those things happened well before Claire McCaskill became state auditor.
But two weeks ago, Dupont again declared bankruptcy and it appears his River of Life Ministries is running the Carthage Guest House and a home in Joplin. Division of Aging records indicate that Dupont is considered the owner of those establishments.
That would seem to be enough to keep him from caring for people who are helpless to fend for themselves. But add to that, a long record of violations that have endangered lives at his establishments and it makes you wonder why the Division of Aging and the state auditor's office have not taken steps to curb these abuses and get this man out of the health care business.
Last, but not least, I should mention that the Division of Aging has continued to let Dupont operate these businesses even though he pleaded guilty two years ago in U. S. District Court to a felony charge of trying to defraud the U. S. Government, in connection with a scheme to bilk the Medicare system.
I'll provide more details sometime in the next few days.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I have been waiting for weeks to see how The Joplin Globe would handle the news that the Joplin R-8 School District had been accredited with distinction by the state of Missouri.
This is a big deal. To be accredited with distinction means your school district is one of the top districts in the state and has cleared all the hoops the state placed in its path.
At first glance, it appears The Globe has finally given a positive story about the R-8 School District the display it deserves. It is on page one, accompanied by a photo. But after that, the Globe reverts to its traditional reluctance to say anything good about its hometown school district.
The article quickly points out that the other two metropolitan Joplin area school districts, Webb City and Carl Junction, have already been accredited with distinction as have "several" other Southwest Missouri school districts.
The Globe is obviously trying to ward off complaints that it never plays up good news about the Joplin schools, while at the same time, not letting up an inch in its normal negative coverage. It makes no difference that Carl Junction and Webb City have already been accredited with distinction. So what? This story should have been about Joplin, not about Carl Junction and Webb City. And despite the Globe noting that "several" school districts have been accredited with distinction, there are a lot more that have not been.
The first news site to break the news about the Joplin R-8 School District was my Room 210 at , thanks to the hard work of intrepid eighth grade reporter Amy Herron Amy's article and a first-person article about the problems in adjusting to life in a new city (Joplin) when English is not your first language, written by eighth grader Mariana Rodriguez are featured on the Top News page at that site.
The formation of the new Journalism Club at South, which will have its works featured on Room 210 is one of the reasons (the final week of the first quarter being the other) that there have not been any updates of this website this past week. I will try to do better.
Back to The Joplin Globe. A letter to the editor in today's Globe hit the nail right on the head about the Globe's continued slide toward sensationalism. The article a few days ago about the bank robbery suspect which pointed out that his parents have criminal records was pure yellow journalism. Is it interesting? Sure it is. But the young man has not been convicted and this information adds nothing to the story of the bank robbery. I have had numerous e-mails asking me to write about a local candidate whose wife has written bad checks. It's not going to happen. Now give me a candidate who has written bad checks or declared bankruptcy and wants a post in which he or she has to handle taxpayers' money and I'll leap on it, but this candidate's wife should not be a story, any more than Dick Cheney's daughter, or the bank robbery suspect's parents should be stories.
Since I am on a roll with the media criticism, let's examine the most recent issues of The Lamar Democrat. First, the Turner Report, then the Joplin Globe, and even a national publication like Furniture Today have run stories on the resignation of Dan O'Sullivan from his position as chairman of the board of directors for O'Sullivan Industries. Though that resignation was almost two weeks ago, at least three editions have been published with nary word said in The Democrat about this major news story. I won't receive my Saturday Democrat until Monday and nothing has been posted on the web yet, but hopefully it will at least be mentioned.
The change of O'Sullivan Industries from a community-based business to a primary example of cutthroat corporate treachery is the biggest story to hit Lamar in years and Lamar residents, who should be able to turn to their hometown newspaper to get the story, are having to go to other sources such as The Turner Report and The Globe.
At the same time, the Democrat ran a story in the Thursday edition that detailed the search for a new CEO at Barton County Memorial Hospital. The article never mentions what happened to the old one or even who the old one is. This isn't a big secret, but you can't expect everyone to remember every detail from stories that have been run in the past.
And the editor's column reminded me of the scene in the old Clark Gable-Doris Day movie "Teacher's Pet," where Gable discovers that Day's father, the renowned small-town journalist Joel Barlow Stone, was nothing more than a cracker-barrel philosopher who wasted space on page one trying to determine if what he had seen were blueberries or huckleberries.
While the city of Lamar is on pins and needles wondering what will happen next in the O'Sullivan saga, the Democrat has devoted far more space to details of Lockwood City Council meetings and Thursday's "From Where I Perch" column in which editor Rayma Bekebrock Davis describes her discovery of "two very lovely persimmons" and uses them to try to determine what kind of winter we will have.
She makes the column worthwhile by noting "I have not seen one wooly worm crossing the road."
Perhaps if the Democrat were to search for news rather than wooly worms and persimmons it might get back to having the circulation and the journalistic reputation it had not so long ago.
It's no secret how I feel about the drug testing of students. It's wrong, it shouldn't be done, so naturally the Diamond R-4 School District is thinking seriously about doing it.
I am sure it is no coincidence that this is being considered so soon after the football team has had incidents with a top player who reportedly had been using illegal drugs. The U. S. Supreme Court won't allow drug testing of regular students because they have rights under the Fourth Amendment against illegal search and seizure. The students have to be provided with an education, but do not have to be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities, and that is where school districts such as Carthage and Webb City have instituted drug testing, as well as other school districts across the nation.
I am not naive enough to think that there are not athletes, band members, academic team members, etc., who take drugs. Of course there are. But how can we teach students about the protections offered citizens by the U. S. Constitution and then turn right around and blithely propose infringing upon their most basic human rights. And don't give me that nonsense about "If it saves one person's life, it will be worth it."
No, it won't. Each time we sacrifice a little bit of freedom for any cause, no matter how noble, we are spitting in the face of what makes America the greatest country in the world.
The majority of students who take drugs (alcohol being a major exception) are not involved in extracurricular activities. Being involved in these activities helps keep young people away from drugs.
For the Diamond R-4 School District, which has bandied about claims of financial hardship, to be discussing a program which in other schools has cost about $10,000, is ludicrous. Why not spend some money on an elementary counselor and help nip some of these problems before they ever begin?
It is true that you could probably catch some people doing drugs by testing them. It may even be true that some would avoid drugs (at least during the season) so they could pass the test. It might also keep some people from going out for extracurricular activities who might need some kind of meaningful activity in their lives to keep them from continuing to use drugs.
While the Diamond R-4 Board of Education is considering drug testing, perhaps it should also consider ankle bracelets for athletes to wear so they won't be partying on weekends or hanging around with the wrong people.Or how about chastity belts to stop those pesky teenage pregnancies. Just because it's being done by other school districts doesn't mean the Diamond R-4 School District should do it.
Then again, we all know how the superintendent and the board there feel about the First Amendment, give them time they'll take care of the Fourth Amendment, the rest of the Bill of Rights, and maybe a few of the Ten Commandments while they are at it.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

I have always defended today's youth, even before I was put in the position of teaching them. At the height of the hysteria over the school shootings at such places as Columbine and Jonesboro, it was seldom pointed out that the rate of violence in our schools had actually decreased.
The media plays such an important role in the stereotyping of our younger generation. They emphasize the bad things that happen and rarely point out the good. They also have played a key role in the heavy emphasis on test scores in comparison to test scores from other countries, always conveniently overlooking the fact that this country is the only country in the world that makes a genuine effort to educate everyone from the most intelligent to the educable mentally retarded. We have always had a goal of no child left behind, well before it became a political slogan.
This hysteria has backfired on the country in many ways. It has put such an emphasis on tests, all of which must, of course, be politically correct, that it is putting the country in danger of failing to educate its young on the basics of citizenship.
Too many times the lessons of today's news have to be left behind so teachers can strictly adhere to curriculums designed to enable students to pass standardized tests. Fortunately there are some teachers who continue to work civics into their lessons, engaging the interest of young people.
Rocky Biggers, my next-door neighbor at South Middle School is one of those teachers. Rocky, who teaches eighth grade social studies, has already managed to work in lessons involving this year's presidential race as well as lessons that compare our judicial system with that of 16th Century Salem.
I wouldn't put myself in Rocky's league, but the students in my communication arts classes were in the computer lab Friday and will be there again Monday to research the stances of President Bush and Senator Kerry on the issues in preparation for writing a comparison/contrast paper later this week.
Students always say they are bored by politics, but it has been my experience that they are almost always more interested than they let on.
Today's youth also have a strong feeling of allegiance to this country. For proof of that, go to my class website, to the Wall of Fame page and read my eighth graders' entries for the annual Elks Lodge Essay Contest. This year's topic was "What Old Glory Means to Me." Some of those entries will leave you with tears in your eyes.
The events of the past week served as a reminder to me of the importance of small-town newspapers in bringing together communities. Small-town newspapers are not there to serve as cheerleaders for a community, though they should be supportive and write about the good things that happen.
At the same time, they should not be constantly tearing down a community, but they must always present the bad news as it happens. And they owe it to their communities to have reporters who are trained to accurately report the news and who are able to write well.
Death in a community is always big news, especially when it happens to someone who is prominent or to someone who is young and never had a chance to live a complete life. I was disappointed to see the Saturday Lamar Democrat (at least the internet version) and see that only a small obituary was there for Rachel Blaser. The local newspaper can play an important role in the healing of a community during such a sad occasion. On the other hand, if it is done poorly, it is probably better off not being done at all, so maybe the right decision was made.
That being said, how in the world can the Democrat publish two straight editions without a story on the resignation of Dan O'Sullivan as chairman of the board of directors at O'Sullivan Industries, the company founded by his father.
That is big news in anybody's definition. Not only is it the removal of nearly the last link of the O'Sullivans to their family business, but it is a sign of continuing change in the company that is the largest employer in Barton County. If you get a chance, take a look at and see what stories the Democrat editor considered more important than the O'Sullivan resignation.
The other big story this week was the Missouri State Auditor's release of the audit for McDonald County. That is the kind of big story that couldn't be ignored as was obvious from the two-day exposure given to the results by both The Joplin Globe and The Neosho Daily News.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

McDonald County residents who read this morning's Joplin Globe should be more than a little bit ticked off. Globe reporter John Hacker wrote the third in his series of articles on the recently completed state audit of the county.
The audit claimed that numerous county officials had received pay increases that were not authorized by the county's Salary Commission, which meets every two years.
That was not the case, county officials said. The commissioners did meet and did make the decision to increase salaries...only they didn't bother to let anyone know about it. Even worse, they didn't seem to even think that was a problem.
When decisions are made that have an impact on taxpayer money, no matter how minute they may be, they have to be documented, and they should be publicized. How else can the taxpayers know if their money is being wisely spent?
Of course, McDonald County officials insist there is no reason to give the money back.
That story was on page three of today's Globe. The article concerning the resignation of Daniel O'Sullivan, oldest son of O'Sullivan Industries founder Tom O'Sullivan, from that company's board of directors was the lead story in today's edition. (For those of you not familiar with how journalism works, a newspaper's lead story is either the one in the upper right hand corner of page one or one that is bannered all the way across the top of the page. This has to do with numerous studies that indicate the reader tends to look in that upper right hand corner first.)
This marks the second time this week that the Globe's top story has been one that was already published in The Turner Report. Monday's Turner Report featured articles on the O'Sullivan resignation and the allegations that were contained in the McDonald County audit. Tuesday's Globe led with the audit and today's edition led with the O'Sullivan resignation.
Glad to be of service.
On a sadder note, services for Rachel Blaser, 25, Lamar, who died Monday at Mt. Carmel Hospital in Pittsburg, will be held 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8, at Daniel Funeral Home in Lamar. Contributions can be made to the Rachel Blaser Memorial Fund for medical scholarships at Lamar Bank and Trust in care of Daniel Funeral Home. A story on Miss Blaser was featured yesterday in The Turner Report.
I'm starting a new experiment in journalism next week on the website I have established for my eighth grade communication arts class at South Middle School in Joplin,
This week, students have been signing up for the newly-formed Journalism Club. We are going to try to be the first middle school in the state to have a news website that is updated daily. Students will be writing not only about what goes on in the classroom, in clubs, and in athletics, but they will also be writing about things that have an effect on their lives, everything from Northpark Mall and community activities to the war in Iraq and the presidential election.
Approximately 55 students have signed up. They will learn how to write news articles and feature stories. Those articles will be featured on the Top News page of the website, then will be shifted a few months later to an archives page so we can not only maintain a history of what goes on at South and in the community, but we can also have a record of their work that they will be able to look back on with pride in years to come.
South Middle School's ZAP (Zeroes Aren't Permitted) program was featured in a story on the local FOX newscast after the Yankees-Twins playoff game Tuesday night.
This program stresses the importance of students meeting deadlines. If they miss a deadline, they receive a ZAP. If they miss three, they receive a ZAP referral and have to stay after school for an hour each day until their work is completed. The program has only been in operation for a few weeks, but it has already made a big difference. The number of unsatisfactory reports was down at mid-quarter and students appear to be making the effort to keep current with their assignments.
It has been hard to find any information about it in the media, but a January 2005 trial date has been scheduled for Kimberly Schlup, 40, Deerfield, who is accused of stealing more than $5,000, but less than $25,000 from Barton County Memorial Hospital, where she served as the chief financial officer.
Ms. Schlup's trial may not be held at that time. Court records indicate it is the third trial scheduled at that time, which means it won't occur then unless the other two are postponed for some reason.
Maybe it's just me, but you would think that information about a top official charged with stealing from a taxpayer-financed institution would be considered big news in a community the size of Lamar.
The court records are available in the Barton County circuit clerk's office and Jerry Moyer has always been gracious in helping people know what to look for and how to look for it. Perhaps the Democrat or the Globe should send someone up there.
Speaking of Jerry Moyer, you can pin the credit or the blame on him. Jerry is the one who showed me how to use court records shortly after I returned to Lamar to become managing editor of The Democrat. He was always patient with me, no matter how many stupid questions I asked. He may never see this, but thanks, Jerry.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

She was the girl next door, a fresh-faced blonde with a smile you could take to the bank.
Her first open heart surgery came on Nov. 15, 1996, two days after her 18th birthday, but she was never in any danger. She was just a spectator watching the surgeons at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin helping sustain the miracle of life.
At that moment, she knew she had found her life's calling. She had already watched the doctors perform an aortic valve replacement. Now she was watching a quintuple bypass procedure. "We watched while they took the artery out of the leg to use in the operation," she said. "They showed us how they tied off all the veins."
She and a fellow high school senior watched each step, including the draining of the blood, the sawing open of the rib cage, and an up-close look at the actual heart.
"I had seen pictures of the heart," she said, "but I never thought I would see one like that. I could have almost reached out and touched it."
She didn't get to see the entire surgery, but she saw enough to know that she wanted to devote her life to medicine and to helping people. "It didn't gross me out at all," she said. "I thought it might. It made me want to go into medicine."
She had already been sure that was the direction in which she was heading. So sure that she gave up playing basketball her senior year so she could take an EMT class. "It was really hard to give up basketball," she said. "I've always enjoyed being a member of the team, but I knew I wasn't going to play college basketball and this is something that would help me with what I wanted to do."
As grown up as her decision-making process was as she went through her high school years, she felt more like a scared little girl when it came time for her to leave her high school and the hometown she loved. "I'm a daddy's girl and I'm scared of leaving to go to college," she said.
As she prepared to begin her college days at Drury College in Springfield, she had a hard time leaving behind the friends she had made while participating in DECA, National Honor Society, Spanish Club, yearbook, Student Council, basketball, and volleyball. It was those sports where the young blonde made a reputation for herself, as a never-say-die competitor who gave her all for her team. "I've always been competitive," she said. "It gives you an edge and helps you to succeed."
A week after she said those words, she crossed the stage and accepted her diploma, turned her tassel and joined the Lamar High School Class of 1997 members as they reached that moment when they turned from students into alumni.
"It's a turning point in my life," she said. "I'm finally growing up."
She eventually earned her bachelor of science degree in nursing and worked at Mt. Carmel Hospital in Pittsburg, Kansas, while she worked toward completing her degree as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist.
Rachel Ann Blaser, the daughter of Roger and Ann Blaser, may have been a daddy's girl, but she was the toughest little daddy's girl you'd ever want to see. Her last battle ended when she died at Mount Carmel Medical Center Monday a little more than a month shy of her 26th birthday.
She spoke her own epitaph seven years earlier, when she spoke of her philosophy of life. "You don't have to always win, but you always have to do your best or whatever you do isn't going to mean anything.
"When I have something I really want to accomplish, I try to reach down deep and give it a little extra."
A little extra was an understatement. Rachel was a shooting star, shining briefly...but our lives.
She will be missed.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The Missouri Highway Patrol is investigating claims that a former bookkeeper embezzled from the McDonald County Sheriff's Department.
Cash receipts totaling $16,375 collected by the sheriff's office between January 2003 and March 2004 were not deposited and are missing, according to a Missouri state auditor's report issued Sept. 30. The embezzling could have been prevented Sheriff Robert Evenson had listened to a recommendation made by state auditors in March 2003, according to the report.
"In March 2003, our office peformed a limited review of the sheriff's management practices and provided recommendations of how accounting controls and procedures could be improved." Those reommendations were almost totally ignored by the sheriff, the report indicated.
In December 2003, a sheriff's department employee told the sheriff a $300 cash bond which was recorded in the jail receipt book had never been deposited. "There was no evidence that an investigation into the missing monies was performed by the sheriff," the audit report said.
The report continued, "These shortages may have been prevented or detected if our recommendations had been implemented or had the sheriff conducted an investigation of the missing bond or notified our office."
The thefts were made possible, the report indicates, by "various internal control weaknesses, including little or no review by someone independent of the sheriff."
The audit showed the following amounts were missing for each month beginning with January 2003, with only three months, July 2003 and January 2004, in which no money was reported missing: $873, $469, $372, $350, $2,805, $2,149, $3,908, $299, $935, $3,900, $286, and $2,952.
An attempt was made by Evenson to cover up the shortage, according to the audit report. "Unrecorded checks totaling $12,148 of accountable fees (which should have been turned over to the county) were actually deposited into the sheriff's bond bank account. These unrecorded checks were apparently substituted for the missing cash bond receipts that were recorded on the deposit slips.
"In addition, in an effort to conceal the shortage, Evenson transferred $1,000 from the civil fee bank account to the bond bank account." The sheriff told the auditors he did that because the bookkeeper had told him she had made a mistake and depositeda bond into the civil account.
"To further conceal the shortage," the report said, "$1,600 of cash from the sheriff's calendar sale proceeds was deposited into the bond account."
The auditors had conducted the March 2003 investigation after receiving citizen complaints about the operation of the sheriff's department.
The sheriff issued the following response to the audit, which was included in the report, "You audit uncovered potential criminal activities, namely theft by an employee in the bookkeeper position in the sheriff's office. During your audit, preliminary examination revealed some problems. These initial findings were investigated further. After the audit was started, the bookkeeper began avoiding the auditor and then began avoiding work and eventually terminated her employment during the audit."
The alleged embezzlement was far from the only problem the audit noted in the sheriff's department.
"The sheriff apparently claimed and was paid for more miles than he actually incurred in the personal vehicle used to conduct official business," the audit said.
The report also cited seized property vanishing, including three ATVs and a dirt bike, which were later determined to be with a former deputy and were still there as of Aug. 3.
Other findings of the audit include:
-The bookkeeper paid herself $207 for civil papers that she did not serve in April and August 2003.
-A February 2003 statement said 5.5 gallons of diesel fuel was purchased for a patrol car by a deputy "however, the sheriff indicates that none of the patrol cars use diesel fuels."
-The same deputy bought fuel at three different times during a ten-hour time span on Feb. 16, 2003. That's a considerable amount of driving and is all the more remarkable because he was off duty on the day for which he claimed the mileage money.
-The chief deputy maintained poor records for the inventory of seized property. A March 4, 2004, listing indicated a rifle was on hand, "however, that rifle could not be located in the seized property room. Subsequently, the chief deputy located a release form for the rifle indicating it was released on May 19, 2003, over nine months earlier.
-County officials received more money than they should have. The McDonald County Salary Commission met on Nov. 16, 2001, according to the audit, and voted not to give any salary increases until the county's financial condition improved. The committee did not meet again in 2003 to increase salaries but county officials went ahead and increased them anyway in violation of state law. Those receiving the allegedly illegal increases were: Presiding Commission, $1,980; Eastern Commissioner $1,980; Western Commissioner 1,980; County Clerk $3,000; Treasurer, $2,200, Collector $3,000, Coroner $2,000, Public Administrator $1,000, Assessor $3,000; and Prosecuting Attorney $4,000; for a total of $27,160.
The auditors recommended that county officials consider repaying the unauthorized salary increases. The county officials responded that they would talk to the prosecuting attorney and get his advice before they do anything.
First round bids in the auction of Liberty Group Publishing, owner of The Neosho Daily News, The Carthage Press, The Big Nickel, and The Neosho Post, as well as nearly 300 other newspapers across the United States have been collected, according to newspaper industry sources.
Management presentations began the week of Sept. 20.
Another bidding round is scheduled for late October.