Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Newton County Sheriff Ron Doerge had his wrists slapped by the Missouri Ethics Commission Dec. 16 for actions he took to ensure the election of Kenneth Copeland as his successor.
The Ethics Commission revealed today on its website that it sent a "letter of admonition" to Doerge, though no further details were given. The letter will apparently is the final result of the investigation since other cases discussed at the Dec. 16 meeting were forwarded to the attorney general for action.
The complaint was lodged against Doerge in October and was first revealed to the public by Jack Dickens, the administrator of . The complaint said, "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."
The Neosho website and The Turner Report have pointed out for several months the ethical lapses committed by the sheriff during the election. After he endorsed Copeland, a former Newton County deputy, as his anointed successor, Doerge attempted to pull a Geppetto act, orchestrating the election through manipulation, not just of his employees, but also of the media.
In particular, Doerge used KBTN radio talk show host John McCormack. McCormack scheduled a candidate forum on his program and supposedly asked Doerge to supply him with questions, apparently without ever considering the conflict of interest.
It later became apparent that Doerge had most likely concocted these questions, a subtle form of electioneering, on taxpayer time and on county equipment, though he steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and blamed everything, as usual, on "disgruntled employees."
What should be a black eye for Doerge's reputation and for the reputation of incoming sheriff Copeland may be just a blip on the radar screen. Everything depends on how the traditional media covers this story. It is undeniably going to be publicized on this weblog and on Neosho Forums and perhaps on the Seneca Forums and Diamond Forums sites, but how will it be handled by the three television stations, The Joplin Globe and The Neosho Daily News.
Will the same amount of coverage be afforded to this that was given to the farewell party that was given for Doerge recently. As I have pointed out time after time, there is little investigative reporting done by the local media. If some charge is leveled, the media reports the charge (at least some of the time), gets a response and considers that to be an investigation. No effort is made to see whether the charge has merit.
The Daily reported the initial complaint to the Missouri Ethics Commission by claiming it had been done by a man known only as "admin" (short for administrator) on Neosho Forums. It would not have taken much investigation to uncover Mr. Dickens' identity. He is not hiding behind that name. He has been interviewed by the Springfield News-Leader and The Globe. Of course, in the same article the Daily said it knew who "Admin" was. Well, if that was the case, what possible justification could the newspaper have in not providing its readers with that information?
I don't blame the Daily's reporter on this one. This appears to be an editor's decision. After making Dickens appear to be some shadowy figure lurking around the corner trying to cause problems for the sheriff, the Daily went back to the same type of so-called "investigative journalism" that has given investigative journalism a bad name. A response was obtained from Doerge and that was that.
Even less investigative reporting was done when the investigators from the Missouri Ethics Commission office came to Neosho to investigate the allegations. The only source of information for stories about that visit came from Doerge...the subject of the investigation. Of course, the local media was not going to get anything out of the investigators, but there were other sources, none of which were mined for information.
Let Doerge call anyone who gives information against him a "disgruntled employee." The history of investigative journalism, as well as congressional investigations, and police investigations, is filled with thousands of legitimate cases that came as a result of information obtained from "disgruntled employees."
Sometimes these people have an ax to grind or can gain an advantage by leaking this information, but many of these people come forward because they legitimately believe something wrong is taking place and they want to do something to stop it. I find no evidence in the media investigation that anyone went any further than talking to the sheriff about the investigation.
This would be a great time for the media to step forward and examine the way that Kenneth Copeland was elected and the role Ron Doerge played in that election. The sad thing is, that in Newton County, all Doerge had to was throw his support behind Copeland and that probably guaranteed Copeland the election. These other machinations were totally unnecessary. There is a story that needs to be told here. It is being told at sites like Neosho Forums and this one. Now it's time for The Joplin Globe, the Neosho Daily News, and the local television stations to do their jobs.
The Missouri Ethics Commission delivered to what amounted as a slap on the wrist, not only to Ron Doerge, but to the entire media establishment in this area. If it had ever provided balanced coverage of Doerge's administration, these events of the last few months may never have happened.
National attention has once again been drawn to O'Sullivan Industries in Lamar. Furniture Today, an industry publication, last week reported on the resignation of Michael O'Sullivan, the last member of the company's founding family to hold a top position there.
Locally, it has been reported by The Joplin Globe. As usual, the story has been totally ignored by the hometown newspaper, The Lamar Democrat, which has still not reported about the resignation two months ago of Daniel O'Sullivan as chairman of the board of directors. In his resignation letter, which was printed in The Turner Report first, O'Sullivan made it clear that he had a problem with the direction in which the company was going. That story remains untold, at least as far as the Lamar paper is concerned. The only information Lamar readers have received from their local "paper of record" about the largest employer in the area has been what has been spoonfed by the company's public relations people. That information should be funneled to the public, but not without an effort to determine what is really going on.
For most people, the Christmas season is a time to celebrate family, a time filled with presents and get-togethers and caroling and all types of traditional activities.
Not everyone is celebrating this time of year and that has been driven home to me twice during the past few days.
One of the best students in my sixth hour communication arts class at South Middle School lost her father last week after he suddenly died from a massive heart attack at age 50. Earlier in the week, I had one of my Journalism Club members come to me and ask apologetically if it would be o.k. if she wrote a story about herself. I asked her what the topic would be. She wanted to tell everyone how she was dealing with a diagnosis of cancer. I quickly gave her the go-ahead. It is still uncertain how far along the cancer is or how much of an immediate threat it poses to her, but I was impressed with her resolve to tell the story, even at a time when she is obviously scared to death while she awaits test results.
I hope something positive can come out of this holiday season for those two courageous young ladies. Keep them in your prayers.
The Neosho Daily reports that metal detectors have been added to the west entrance of the Newton County Courthouse and that the east entrance has been closed. I have no problem with an armed security guard at the courthouse, That would be an excellent idea. I have no problem with metal detectors at courtroom entrances, which was the way things had been done in Newton County.
When you take drastic steps like these, you are telling the people who would disrupt our democratic processes that they have won. People should be able to come to their courthouse without being treated like common criminals. If this is anything like Jasper County (which has since removed the metal detectors), county employees and people who are favored by those county employees will not have to go through the metal detector. I will drop my opposition to these on the day that everyone from the clerks and janitors through the sheriff, deputies, and judges have to take their time and drop their metal on the tray.
There is something wrong when taxpayers can't go to pay those taxes without being considered to be suspects.
The Carthage Press reports that the Carthage R-9 Board of Education was scheduled to discuss Newton Learning at its meeting last night.
Newton Learning is the summer school arm of Edison Schools, a for-profit company that contracts to operate schools. Newton Learning already handles the summer school operations for Sarcoxie, McDonald County, and East Newton in this area.
Officials from each of these school districts has expressed satisfaction with the way Newton has operated their summer schools. The company provides the curriculum, based on Missouri standards, hires the teachers and pays them (and these are almost always teachers from the school district) and provides an incredible wealth of supplies, which it allows the district to keep when the summer school session has been completed. Every school district that has contracted with Newton Learning in this area has made a profit.
That includes the Diamond R-4 School District, which had Newton operate its summer school in 2002. The school made more than $200,000 profit and used the enrollment figure for reimbursement from the state for the next two years, but dropped Newton after 2002. Superintendent Mark Mayo claims that the company has had problems with other area school districts, but the districts he mentions, as far as I can tell, have never had anything to do with Edison Schools or Newton Learning.
The R-4 School District is suing Edison for a little over $80,000 it says it should not have to pay the company. If Diamond Superintendent Mark Mayo thinks Newton Learning should be sued, that should be reason enough for Carthage to sign up with the company immediately.
I am not a big proponent of these for-profit companies in education, but the only thing Newton Learning has done for area schools, Diamond notwithstanding, has been to take the huge burden of operating a summer school program off their shoulders and allow them to sit back and watch the money pour in.
It's a shame that Diamond taxpayers are having to foot the bill for this clueless Don Quixote adventure.

No comments: