Monday, August 31, 2015
The people of Joplin should sue the Globe for non-support
Those people obviously had not read the newspaper.
The people who work at the Globe suffered just like the rest of the city after the May 22, 2011 tornado. Some lost their houses; some lost loved ones.
The Globe staff continued to put out the newspaper day after day, providing a valuable source of information. The reporters were ready to rise to the challenge of covering the number one story in the nation.
Unfortunately, for a newspaper that had a team capable of delivering superlative coverage in the wake of the biggest disaster to ever hit this city, while the reporters were ready, upper management and the newsroom leadership never sounded the charge.
For the first several days, obviously it was a major task to simply publish the newspaper, but even then, the Globe failed to serve as the voice of the community. It ceded that responsibility to Chad Elliot, Josh Marsh and the people at KZRG, people who suffered as much as anyone in Joplin, but stayed on air, 24/7, not only providing a lifeline to a community in desperate need of one, but also establishing the Zimmer stations as the go-to source for news about the Joplin Tornado.
As it became apparent that the rebuilding of Joplin was going to be the major story for the next several years, it was vital for the community to have a news source that kept an eye on the millions of dollars that were coming into the city.
This did not just mean seeing which businesses were going to rebuild and which were gone for good, though those stories were important. It also meant keeping a closer eye than ever on the people who made the decisions. It also meant being ready to pursue stories which might not reflect well on our leaders.
In that, the Globe has failed miserably and continues to do so. And not just with its coverage of government, but also with how it has handled major stories involving charities and businesses.
When the Globe was told that the Salvation Army had received millions of dollars in tornado relief money and had spent little of it in Joplin, the editors decided not to pursue the story. The source took it to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The Globe also ignored early information that the Home Depot building had only been built to withstand 85 mile per hour winds. That story went to the Kansas City Star. When a Joplin woman who lost her husband and two children in the tornado filed a lawsuit against Home Depot (which locals found out about initially by reading the Turner Report), the Globe's Facebook site featured dozens of comments saying that the woman was trying to cash in on the loss of her loved ones. How could you blame Home Depot, they asked. Perhaps some of those people might have thought differently about the lawsuit had they been aware of the information that was in the Kansas City Star.
The Globe served as a cheering section for anything that was suggested by former City Manager Mark Rohr, former R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff and Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer.
No one ever questioned just how the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team was formed. Rohr, in his book Miracle of the Human Spirit, wrote that it consisted of an informal group that had already been meeting. The first public meeting of CART was held after this informal group's leadership and top members had already been selected.
The Globe went along willingly with the notion that all of the ideas for projects came from a bulletin board at a CART meeting that anyone could put suggestions on. With that many suggestions, how is it that nearly all of CART's ideas were ones that the original CART members had been promoting, for the most part unsuccessfully, for years?
Where was the investigative reporting when the idea of hiring a master developer was first suggested? Where did this idea originate? We know now that it came from David Wallace of Wallace Bajjali.
Why did the Globe never look into the background of Wallace Bajjali? I only needed a few minutes to find enough information to let me know that the city was asking for trouble. The Globe accepted Mark Rohr's word that he had checked into the company's background and he would "stake his reputation on it."
As more and more information was discovered about Wallace Bajjali, the Globe remained silent. It took the master developer's departure for the Globe to suddenly begin writing about how awful Wallace Bajjali was.
The same plan was used in the Globe's coverage of the R-8 School District. Consider the following approaches taken by the area's newspaper of record:
-Ignored a government scientific report that showed there was never any need to demolish East Middle School and keep students and staff in a warehouse building for three years.
-Failed to report CFO Paul Barr's statement on $8 million of "might-as-well" spending that was used for unnecessary athletic items at Joplin High School.
-Never called C. J. Huff to task for failing to tell the public that an employee in his technology department admitted to having pornographic photos of 10 Joplin High School girls on his laptop. The official statement from Huff said the employee had no contact with students.
-Went along with Huff's litany of excuses for why so many teachers were leaving the district. With 597 teachers in the district and more than 400 leaving in the last four years, even with some of the teachers replacing others who left a year or two earlier, it is still obvious that more than half of the teachers who were in the district four years ago have departed.
-Overlooked Huff's boorish behavior toward board members during meetings.
-Immediately began to criticize new board members who were having to deal with actions bordering on obstruction that were done by the previous board.
The most egregious violations of the Globe's responsibility as a watchdog for the public interest came in the way the newspaper dealt with investigations conducted by outside sources, especially the Loraine Report and the recently-issued state audit of the City of Joplin.
When the Loraine Report was issued, the Globe, admirably most thought, went to court to battle for the release of 10 missing pages from the report, and also for the exhibits and sworn statements that accompanied the report.
After winning its court battle, the Globe concentrated on portions having to do with fired City Manager Mark Rohr and never used its vast resources (at least compared to other news outlets in the Joplin area) to uncover the story. The newspaper provided more space to Rohr and Joplin businessman Charlie Kuehn to refute the report than it gave to the report itself.
While doing research for my latest book, I was surprised to discover that the first mention of possible conflicts of interest regarding Councilman Mike Woolston was in the pages of the Globe. The subject was broached during a Joplin City Council meeting. Woolston denied the allegation and the mention was buried on an inside page, deep into a lengthy council write up that had begun on page one.
Woolston's alleged misdeeds were pushed aside by the Globe after its reporters finally had their hands on the Loraine Report. They ignored sworn statements that indicated Woolston had used prior knowledge of development in the 20th and Connecticut area to buy up land for Kuehn, which was then sold at a hefty profit to the Joplin Redevelopment Corporation. Property owners testified that Woolston had called them "stupid" for not selling.
Woolston's interview with investigator Thomas Loraine was even more troubling. He made it clear that he had attended planning and zoning meetings as a "private citizen" to support Kuehn's projects, adding that he realized that it would send the message that he, a councilman, had a special interest in those projects. That did not bother him in the slightest.
The Globe also ignored warning signs raised by the report that all of Wallace Bajjali's dealings, including ones that amounted to millions of dollars, were being done totally through Rohr, with no input from the city attorney, including the contract that made the council reluctant to fire Wallace Bajjali for fear the city would have to forfeit $3 million to get rid of the company.
Instead, the Globe attacked the report, concentrating on its treatment of Rohr and the fact that it ended up at nearly double the price that had been agreed upon. The price was a legitimate issue, but anyone who read through the report can readily see that it was worth that much money, if not more.
The Globe provided considerable space for those who attacked the report and questioned its integrity. Never once was it mentioned that Editor Carol Stark refused to talk to Loraine, most likely because it would have been obvious that she directed news coverage to attack council members Bill Scearce and Ben Rosenberg, with much of the information being provided to her on the sly by Rohr.
It did not take long for the attack on the state audit of the city to begin. In the two weeks since the report was issued, as far as I can determine, the Globe has yet to print a letter to the editor or a "guest column" from someone who agrees with the report. It seems highly unlikely that the newspaper has not received any since the comment sections at the Globe, KZRG, KOAM, the Turner Report, and other news sources indicate that considerably more than half of the comments are negative concerning Woolston and city officials and not about the audit itself.
The Globe printed a perfunctory editorial about the need for the city to do its business in the open and then turned its guns on the audit. Major space on the opinion page of the Sunday edition was provided to guest columnist Anson Burlingame, who explained what a poor job the auditors did, the same message he tried to put across during an interminable, almost incomprehensible, monologue he performed at the Corley Auditorium on the MSSU campus the night the audit was released.
Burlingame defended Wallace Bajjali, saying that the company could have succeeded if it had been left alone without interference (presumably from council members Scearce and Rosenberg, as well as the others who were in the so-called Bloc of 5).
The same argument was made in a lengthy opinion page column by Rohr in Saturday's edition. The column was headlined "Ex-city manager offers story behind the failure."
No, Carol Stark or whichever editor handled that page. He did not offer the story behind the failure; he offered his version of the story behind the failure. According to Rohr, Wallace Bajjali did nothing wrong.
The one thing that neither Rohr nor Burlingame ever explains is why should we believe Wallace Bajjali would have been successful in Joplin when the company had never successfully completed a project anywhere else?
Why should we have had any expectation of Wallace Bajjali seeing through its $794 million plan to completion when David Wallace had never been involved with a project of anywhere near this magnitude?
Despite what Rohr and Burlingame say, the problem was not that the council interfered with Wallace Bajjali, it was the decision to allow outside vested interests to have the major say in hiring a master developer and with recommending that the position be created without a more thorough study. If there would have been some council interference before the hiring of David Wallace, a great deal of grief could have been prevented.
The latest attack on the audit came from Editor Carol Stark herself, using the Sunday opinion page. The headline reads, "Change in state law would improve audits." Almost the entire column was critical of the audit process.
Do you sense a pattern developing?
When Tom Loraine uncovered problems in the city, the Globe attacked the audit. It cost too much; he wouldn't answer the Globe's questions.
And now the state auditors are being secretive and we need to change the law because they are making allegations that hit hard at the Globe's buddies, like Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob O'Brian, the people on CART, and, of course, beloved city officials like Mike Woolston.
The Globe has had access to the Loraine depositions for a year and four months. Those prove conclusively that, at the least, Woolston skated on the edge of illegal behavior. Woolston (and the Globe) seem to be of the opinion that if something is legal, that automatically makes it ethical. Anyone who reads the transcript of Woolston's interview with Loraine, which is almost completely reprinted in my book Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud is going to have a hard time being convinced that this man knows the meaning of the word "ethical."
A Pulitzer Prize for the Joplin Globe?
The people of Joplin should sue the newspaper for non-support.
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