How dare they?.......The recent knowledge that Sugar Land officials are working overtime to make sure the public thinks there is little if no crime in Sugar Land reminds me of the bad old days in Sugar Land when one of my reporters was threatened with bodily harm if he ever tried to get crime information again.
Although I remember it like it was yesterday, and many of its aspects remind me of yesterday, it happened over 30 years ago when the police chief was “Chief Findley” but everybody knew that Ernie Taylor ran the department.
I sent my only reporter to the police department to look at their “offense” reports. Every other city police department had offense reports but Sugar Land kept saying they had none.
“Don’t leave until you see them,” I admonished my mild mannered reporter.
He returned to the office an hour later, white, sweating, and clearly shaking.
In an astonished voice he told me that first he asked to see the chief who was sitting in a chair in plain sight, leaning up against the wall. When he asked for the chief, Chief Findley slammed his chair down and walked out the back door, clearly visible from my reporter’s vantage point.
He told them that he was just doing his job and had been told to stay there until he saw the offense reports. At that point, someone took him into a back room, got him into a choke hold and pushed his fist up to his face and threatened him if he didn’t leave. He did.
I wrote an open letter to the city council and went to the next council meeting with copies for all the council members and read the letter aloud myself to the council meeting. (Who was going to stop me, at that point?)
The upshot of all that sturm and drang was that the offense reports were henceforth made available to the Star and I made my reputation as willing to charge Hell with a bucket of ice water.
It seems we are returning to the bad old days when a series of Sugar Land city officials’ e-mails were obtained by Fort Bend Now, an online web site which carries news about Fort Bend.
These e-mails revealed that Sugar Land is pulling all stops to keep the lid on news about crime.
Has Russell Jones had a lobotomy?......In an e-mail to City Manager Allen Bogard, Sugar Land City Councilman Russell Jones said on Feb. 13: “It is my observation that media people are basically lazy when they have the opportunity to be, and they are more likely to use material which you put into their hands than material which they must go look for.”
I can’t imagine a councilman who wants good press would call members of the fifth estate “lazy.”
Jones was complaining that every little crime is reported by the city’s communication department and then the Houston media uses it to make Sugar Land look bad.
The communication department responded that they only write releases about certain types of information: educational, investigative purposes, and successes of the department.
The e-mails even reveal that information will be released later in the day to keep the Houston television stations from running the news that night.
It was eventually determined that the city’s daily crime report on its web site was the source of most of the news the media was obtaining. So the city had an answer to that. It was simply shut down the daily crime report on the web site and shut it down so quickly that even the police department’s crime prevention officer didn’t know what had happened, according to the e-mails.
A confusing crime map was left on the city’s web site.
It’s impossible to blame just one person for this cabal to keep information from the public and you, the taxpayers. City Manager Allen Bogard, Communication Director Patricia Pollicoff, Assistant Communication Director Doug Adolph, Police Chief Doug Brinkley, Director of Public Affairs Judy Janecek and various other city council members including the guy who started it all--Russell Jones must share the blame but the city employees were just trying to please their bossess--the elected officials.
I find Jones’ involvement in this matter particularly interesting since he has shown a keen interest in the media throughout his civic career. He is the only city councilman from Sugar Land who wants to change the open meetings law, had an interest in a local business newspaper many years ago, and currently writes a column for another newspaper. Is Jones only interested in keeping a lid on things as long as he is the lid? And how smart is it to put in writing that the media is “lazy?”
I don’t know why I’m even bothering with this. The Star has always reported the crime and we’ve never needed a city web site to point the way for us. We have our sources and our crime reporter, LeaAnne Klentzman isn’t afraid to dig. So actually shutting down the city’s crime report will make our newspaper more important to the citizenry.
But I decry any attempt to withhold information from the public as I remember the fist in the face from many years ago.
And kudos to Fort Bend Now for bringing this to the public’s attention.
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