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Fort Bend County, At Large
By Cheryl Skinner

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.

The CIA syndrome

If you listen to the detractors of County Clerk Dianne Wilson, it seems there is a movement to make Wilson a threat to national security. I feel like it is some kind of Central Intelligence Agency syndrome. After years of being on the cutting edge of technological advances that have launched Fort Bend County into the 21st Century (during the 20th) Wilson is now under fire by a handful of politically motivated types who want us all to believe putting public documents on the Internet is a threat to all Fort Bend County residents and the United States as well.

Wilson has now taken probate records off the Internet in anticipation of a Texas Attorney General’s ruling on whether she can or cannot remove sensitive data from official documents before placing them on the Internet. It is a concern she has had since day one, but the Texas laws that govern what is and what is not public information have had her hands tied. In other words, she is obligated to provide public records to those who ask for it and the state also designates how much she can charge for this public information if the requester wants to purchase officials documents one at a time or by the thousands.

I can almost envision Wilson’s photo on a political opponent’s campaign literature naming the incumbent as public enemy number one! How ridiculous.

No one wants their social security number or driver’s license put out as public information, but the problem is not Dianne Wilson, it is the state and federal laws that govern what Wilson is obligated, by law, to do.

And, it might be noted one more time that Wilson is only one of a large number of county and district clerks who have converted text records into Internet files for the convenience of the citizenry and to help take the load (and taxpayer’s expense) off their office staff. I am sure the move to making public records more public has crimped the style of the thousands of businesses that wish to sell this information to title companies, those looking for lost relatives and private investigator types, but it doesn’t construe to making Wilson public enemy number one.

Let’s get back to the real issues, whatever they may be, in this political race and quit trying to muddy the waters with this nonsense. The records have been available on the Internet for quite some time and there is no reason for them to suddenly become an issue. If they were a threat to national security, it should have been identified as a threat immediately and not years later when Wilson has an opponent in the race. All the investigative reporting in the world cannot justify the attack mode that is currently ongoing, especially in light of the fact that being able to access public records on the Internet has been the subject of many a story over the past few years with nary an adverse comment.

The pen

I really wasn’t going to discuss this in a public forum until our publisher Bev Carter suggested I should, so here goes. During the filming of Extreme Home Makeover Home Edition, I and dozens of other reporters were on hand periodically through the makeover in East Bernard. The media was treated very kindly by Royce Homes representatives who apparently were responsible for keeping track of the media and making sure that all of the rules were followed. They provided a VIP tent with all kinds of sandwiches and treats and big drums of cold drinks.

However, I didn’t go there to eat, drink and visit. I went there to get photos of the makeover and stories on the interesting and heart warming events that were unfolding in this small town bordering Fort Bend County. And, that is where the problems surfaced. On the day of the official “unveiling” with the famous “move that bus” scenario, the media was placed in a fenced in area at the very opposite end of the visitors section. While regular citizens were able to view and photograph the stars and the Kubena family as the big moment arrived, we found ourselves scrambling to try and get a clear shot of the biggest moment of the event. In fact without a large telephoto lens on the camera, a reporter could not get a shot of the unveiling. And, to make matters worse, because we were all penned inside this small fenced in area, many of the attempted shots produced photos of a thumbnail, too far away image, complete with portions of the long telephoto lenses of nearby reporters. Now I am only 4’11” and that proved to be a hindrance as well. I knew I had to get over the half dozen telephotos zooming in on the unveiling, so I shimmied up the metal fence, wedging my legs between the bars to try and balance myself while shooting the scenes.

When the event was over, the media was kept in the fenced area while the visitors roamed freely. The media that claimed to be “on deadline” were released from the confines of the pen, while the remainder of the reporters were told to wait for some of the design team members (the stars, if you will) to appear for interviews.

Glancing down the fence, two of the design team could be seen visiting with the crowds, signing autographs and submitting to photos. Being a less than patient type, I followed two of the daily paper photographers, who said they had to be released because of deadline, out the opening of the pen.

The daily photographers went toward the area where shuttles were supposed to be (that is another story—they weren’t) and I took off toward the crowds where the close up personal visiting was going on. I was stopped twice. It seems it was OK for the regular visitors to take photos of the completed house, the design team etc., but those of us in the media who had patiently complied with all of the rules, spent six to eight hours waiting for the unveiling, submitted to being penned up at the very end of the secured area—were not supposed to be there. Well, I was tired, thirsty, hot and a bit grumpy because I had missed out on good shots of the family and the unveiling. I had no intention of missing a few good shots of the design team and the completed house, so I just plowed on down and took the photos. Then I walked for miles waiting for some sort of ride to the designated parking.

I adore Extreme Home Makeover. In fact it was my favorite show on television and one of only a few that I actually sit through from start to finish. I also think that the teams from Royce Homes and the thousands of other volunteers should be commended for giving this deserving family a dream come true. But that doesn’t alter the downside of this event.

The day after the local unveiling I awoke and started to make coffee. As I reached for the coffee, my arm hurt like the devil. Trying to figure out what on earth was wrong, I looked at the area emitting pain---black and blue. I then bent down to get the coffee filters and the same ouch came from my legs. I looked and, sure enough—black and blue—perfect lines where the legs had lodged in the pen barriers. I’m getting too darn old for this.

It would seem to me that Royce Homes and ABC Television would welcome local reporters. After all, I heard dozens of people say they hadn’t watched the show up until the local reporters started covering the East Bernard event but now intended to view the program regularly.

Giving reporters VIP passes and treats is just great but most of us have learned to live without food in order to get a hot story and photographs. There isn’t a sandwich in the world that can compensate for being stymied in doing the job you set out to do.

Shame on whoever set up the media agenda. They obviously have never been there and done that” or they would have had the foresight to place the media in the proper place to get the job done without all the obstacles.

The bruises have healed, my hurt pride in not getting the shots I wanted, hasn’t. The only satisfaction I had was when I viewed the shots taken by the daily papers and realized even with huge telephoto lenses, most of the big boys got blurry shots—but at least they appeared close up. I’m sure they were none too happy either when they saw the finished product in print.

I hope, if there is ever another event of this nature, those who arrange for the media realize that we aren’t there for fun or food but to get the story. And, it would be nice if accomplishing that task did not include exhaustion and bruises!


Contact skinnerc1@ev1.net, if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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   Last Update:  September 07, 2006