Editor, The Daily Republic
I was city hall reporter here and, I don’t know – five or six years ago – or maybe more. I was doing a story, [and] my editor at the time who is now the publisher had come to me and said that his kids have been having to walk to school in the street. In his neighborhood there were big segments where there were no sidewalks and it’s always bothered him, and he wants to approach that issue and figure out what’s going on.
So, we did a series of reports on that. And it went on for a year or two or more, and, anyway, during one particular story I’m talking with a city official about the city sidewalk code and the sidewalk laws – and everything – and he’s quoting all these sections of the law. So afterward I went and looked up the law on the city website where the city code is, and I couldn’t find it.
I couldn’t find the sidewalk law – the law that requires sidewalks to be built as part of any new development, anywhere in the code. I called this official back.
“Well it’s gotta’ be there,” he says. “It’s gotta’ be there”
And I said, “Well, show it to me – I can’t find it.”
It wasn’t there. I went to several more city officials and everybody was perplexed. [They said,] “It’s gotta’ be there. It’s gotta’ be there.”
Well, through the process of digging and reporting, I found out that the city’s attorney had accidentally – during the adoption of a totally unrelated ordinance – had accidentally inserted the wrong code reference in it - a totally unrelated ordinance. He accidentally repealed the law that requires people to build sidewalks in Mitchell.
And so we reported that. And at the very next City Council meeting, they had to adopt an emergency ordinance to reinstate this law.
And then in more of the course of the same reporting, [you know] today Mitchell has been praised for having one of the most progressive and aggressive sidewalk programs in the state. We don’t deserve all the credit for that, but I think we deserve some of the credit for making that an issue. We have a much more much more pedestrian and handicapped-friendly city today because of it. If you walk around the city you’ll see lots of fresh sidewalk and lots of new ramps and things like that for handicap and ADA accessibility.
Well what that – What I think that taught me was it drove home for me the importance of: If we’re not here, who’s going to do this kind of reporting?
And also as a reporter you have a choice a lot of times with a story you can say, “Well, whatever – and OK. I’ll just file this thing and get done with it.” Or, you can dig, and dig, and dig – until you get to the bottom of it.
And when you do that – a lot of times – you produce something really important that wasn’t, you know, to the level of Watergate or anything like that – but it certainly did prove to me that persistence is important and that it can produce reporting that can actually cause laws that can be enacted.
So we should never take for granted the impact we can have if we put our minds to it. So, that was definitely my “ah-ha” moment.